Earlier this month, the Trump Administration proposed to overhaul rules from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For specifics on the Administration’s proposal, click here. The proposal’s rulemaking process gives the public a 60-day comment period, followed by a Council on Environmental Quality analysis of those comments.
From my experience, here’s what’s most notable about this White House announcement:
The NEPA process is often very long so it’s understandable that the Administration would desire to speed up the process. Clearly, this Administration has put a priority on more timely decisions, especially when a Federal project or Federal permit involves multiple agencies having a stake.
Delays in the NEPA process often involve state & Federal agency comments on proposed projects due to, for example, lack of funding to complete their assessments, internal/political issues, seeking further options to a proposed project, or when an agency with jurisdiction does not comment or delays its responsibility to provide input.
While there is predictable angst from the environmental community, the reality is that the Corps of Engineers and other Federal agencies must still do their due diligence to sufficiently account for environmental impacts of proposed projects or permit applications. For example, if a permit application proposal potentially threatens critical habitat or protected species, the Federal agency processing the permit must have input from, for example, the US Fish & Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service depending on jurisdiction.
The Administration’s new NEPA proposal will not and should not, short-circuit an agency’s requirement to do its due diligence. Nothing in my view changes here. Decisions must still be based upon relevant facts, current and quality data, and best science when it comes to projections.
Moreover, a future NEPA document (for example, an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment) must still stand or fall on its merits, specifically, the quality of its supporting data and analyses. This is important point because many proposed projects are held up by claims of inadequate documentation of environmental impacts, poor or lacking data, or on procedural grounds that might be well-founded.
The proposed NEPA changes will put even a brighter spotlight on how well Federal agencies address proposed project impacts: environmental, economic, and social. These agencies will still have to comply with the Endangered Species, Clean Water and Clean Air Act requirements.
Most important, the public and affected state and Federal and non-Federal agencies will still have their opportunity to comment and that will put the burden on the Federal agency proposing an Environmental Impact Statement to address impartially impacts, any required mitigation, and other options that could be considered to a proposed project.
Doug joined the Dawson team in 2019 after a career with the Army Corps of Engineers, including 13 years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Project Planning and Review.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.