NEPA updates insert common sense rule-making
Published on Jan. 25, 2020
In an effort to streamline federal processes, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is proposing to update its regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
According to a summary in the Federal Register, CEQ has not comprehensively updated its regulations since their promulgation in 1978, more than four decades ago. This proposed rule would modernize and clarify the regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies in connection with proposals for agency action.
The proposed amendments would advance the original goals of the CEQ regulations to reduce paperwork and delays and promote better decisions consistent with the national environmental policy set forth in section 101 of NEPA.
If finalized, the proposed rule would comprehensively update and substantially revise the 1978 regulations. CEQ invites comments on the proposed revisions.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was signed into law by President Nixon on Jan. 1, 1970. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) initially issued guidelines for implementing NEPA in 1970, revised those guidelines in 1973 and subsequently promulgated its NEPA implementing regulations in 1978.
The original goals of those regulations were to reduce paperwork and delays and promote better decisions consistent with the national environmental policy established by NEPA.
Congress enacted NEPA to establish a national policy for the environment, provide for the establishment of CEQ and for other purposes.
Section 101 of NEPA sets forth a national policy “to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”
Section 102 of NEPA establishes procedural requirements, applying that national policy to proposals for major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment by requiring federal agencies to prepare a detailed statement on the environmental impact of the proposed action; any adverse effects that cannot be avoided; alternatives to the proposed action; the relationship between local short-term uses of man’s environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity and any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved in the proposed action.
NEPA also established CEQ as an agency within the Executive Office of the President to administer federal agency implementation of NEPA.
Effect on ranchers
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) Senior Director for Policy Communications Ed Frank had Public Lands Council Associate Director Tanner Beymer and Nevada rancher JJ Goicoechea on hand to discuss NEPA updates on a recent episode of NCBA’s Beltway Beef podcast.
Beymer described NEPA as simply a process by which the federal government has to evaluate the potential environmental effects of any proposed action at the federal level.
“For ranchers, this most often manifests itself in the form of NEPA reviews before a term grazing permit renewal or prior to range improvements,” said Beymer. “NEPA is also used in limited capacity to determine participation in certain USDA programs.”
He continued, “Folks in the ranching community understand this process and have to be intimately familiar with it to be compliant and have access to grass.”
“What this proposed rule change does is modernize and simplify the process and speed it up,” said Beymer. “In a lot of cases where ranchers are conducting Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), that process can take up to four and a half years.”
Beymer noted four and half years is the average time it takes the federal government to complete an EIS.
“If a rancher is looking at doing an EIS on a grazing permit renewal, that’s almost half of the entire 10-year lease on the permit,” said Beymer.
Goicoechea chimed in, noting it has taken his neighbors nearly a decade to be approved for fencing on a BLM lease.
“The fencing project can’t be done without approval through NEPA, and so my neighbor has had to move his cattle off the allotment to avoid traffic collisions,” said Goicoechea. “That’s just a part of his operation he is no longer able to use because he is stuck waiting on federal approval.”
“We often have drought situations in Nevada where we may need to haul in water or develop additional sources for livestock and wildlife alike,” said Goicoechea. “But, unless there was a drought assessment done on the lease, it can take up to five years to get approval for the water. In an emergency situation, that’s not workable and people end up having to move their livestock elsewhere.”
“There is no reason NEPA should take that long under any circumstance,” said Beymer. “These rule changes are meant to address these shortfalls so we don’t have to waste so much time putting together large documents that realistically only serve as the basis for litigation down the road.”
Beymer noted NCBA and other supporters of the rule change are expecting the same level of hysteria from opponents as when endangered species act ammendments were announced.
“This isn’t a gutting of NEPA,” said Beymer. “No one wants to roll anything back. We just want to inject some common sense into the process.”
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.