Trump administration releases NEPA rule

-The Hagstrom Report

President Donald Trump and the Council on Environmental Quality on Wednesday announced the final rule to rewrite the National Environmental Policy Act regulations for the first time in more than 40 years.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said, “Overregulation and unnecessary permitting delays have had negative impacts on our communities for decades, especially in rural areas.”

“NEPA in its current form exemplifies ‘bureaucratic red tape’ — with evaluations taking up to six years to complete,” Newhouse said.

“Our constituents cannot afford these delays when trying to renew, maintain, or develop critical infrastructure projects across the country. This rule will finally allow for a streamlined permitting approach, encourage environmental stewardship, and incentivize investment in our rural communities across the West and beyond.”

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is also a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “The rule seeks to prevent delays for infrastructure projects by establishing a two-year time limit for the completion of federal environmental impact statements and a one-year limit for environmental assessments.”

“Further, the new rule would promote information sharing and efficiency among federal agencies as well as better collaboration with state, local and tribal governments,” Hoeven said.

“Infrastructure, whether it’s for mitigating natural disasters, producing energy or transporting people and goods, serves as the backbone of our economy,” said Hoeven.

“As we’ve seen with Dakota Access and other projects bogged down through litigation, the federal NEPA review process has often resulted in inflated costs and significant delays for a wide range of vital projects across our nation. This final rule is a welcome effort that builds on our record of providing regulatory certainty for future projects and will help taxpayer dollars go further as we work to build and repair the nation’s infrastructure.”

House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said, “Every administration for the past half a century has tried to untangle the mess Congress created by writing NEPA in the way it did.”

“The House and Senate were smoking something when they enacted the obscure and flowery text of that 1965 law, and since then the courts, bureaucrats, and now special interest groups have spent unfathomable resources defining it for them,” Bishop said.

“That’s not the way our form of government is supposed to work. Enacted with noble intent to expand public input and enhance environmentally conscious decisions, NEPA has morphed into a tool for excessive litigation to slow or block economic activity, including crucial projects to support clean water, affordable energy, and essential infrastructure.

“Today, the president and his administration made good on another promise to the American people. With this rule, we will have a modern environmental review process and greater regulatory certainty. Work in Congress remains to build upon and reinforce the critical work enshrined in this rule.”

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said, “Today’s action by the Trump administration to modernize the NEPA regulations will cut down on outdated, bureaucratic red-tape obstructing critical national and local infrastructure projects.”

“Energy infrastructure, coastal restoration, and flood protection projects in Louisiana and across the country have long been delayed by a NEPA process that has become overly complex and burdensome,” Scalise said.

“Instead of years-long reviews that produce 600-plus page documents, these updated regulations will be more effective and will lead to simpler environmental reviews and more shovels in the ground on projects that will benefit Americans’ everyday lives.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council celebrated the finalization of the Trump administration’s rulemaking on NEPA, issuing a joint statement.

“The modernized NEPA rule brings common sense back to an important rule that was established to protect our land and water resources,” said NCBA President Marty Smith.

“President Trump and his team at the Council on Environmental Quality embraced a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure this country has the strongest possible environmental policy for years to come,” Smith said.

“They deserve an abundance of thanks. American ranchers that care for hundreds of millions of acres of private and public lands across the United States know the importance of implementing timely improvements based on the best knowledge at hand. These changes ensure NEPA does not delay good management practices.”

“The process updates to NEPA are celebrated across the West,” said PLC President Bob Skinner.

“Today’s rule recognizes the severe limitations of a policy that had not been updated in more than 40 years. Over the last four decades, ranchers learned and adapted to new needs of wildlife and other rangeland users, but outdated NEPA policy prevented us from responding to many critical situations,” Skinner said.

“The changes finalized today bring NEPA up to date, focus the attention on the real issues at hand, and ensure the government is avoiding speculative and duplicative environmental reviews. Thank you to the Trump administration for engaging and listening to stakeholders on the ground.”

The groups added, “The updated NEPA rule does not change the substantive NEPA law, but rather, improves the management, interpretation, and engagement of NEPA processes. This includes establishing presumptive time limits of two years for environmental impact statements (EISs) and one year for environmental assessments (EAs), codifying relevant case law and determining appropriate levels of environmental review, expanding outreach and utilized technologies, and ensuring meaningful and effective environmental reviews.”

But Democrats and environmentalists disagreed.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, “President Trump either fundamentally misunderstands our national infrastructure challenge or is cynically using it to justify his continued assault on clean air and clean water protections.”

“Delays to major infrastructure investments are overwhelmingly caused by a lack of funding, not by rules designed to ensure that construction projects do not harm the health and environment of the communities they serve — particularly minority and lower-income communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of pollution and climate change,” Hoyer said.

“The president’s rule change will only serve to cut communities out of the process of determining how best to move forward with infrastructure plans while again denying the reality of our global climate crisis.

“I stood in the White House last year with other congressional leaders from both parties as we sought President Trump’s commitment to a bipartisan investment in infrastructure that he had previously supported. Instead of working with us to move forward with it, he demanded that Congress end its oversight of his administration and, when he didn’t get what he wanted, walked out.

“Last month, House Democrats passed a major infrastructure investment package of our own, determined to move America forward. Instead of using our infrastructure challenges to further his anti-environment agenda, President Trump ought to work with Congress to secure the funding we need for the kind of comprehensive and effective infrastructure investment our country and our communities require.”

Katie Murtha, vice president of federal government relations at Environment America, said, “The administration has failed today. It has failed to keep a promise made by Congress and President Richard Nixon 50 years ago.”

“Back then, President Nixon emphasized that it was time for America to pay its past debts in order to reclaim the purity of our air, water and wildlife,” Murtha said. “That was the 1970s, and we’re still a work in progress. But today it is literally now or never — and this decision by President Trump tips the scales in the wrong direction.

“NEPA has quietly protected some of our most precious, environmentally sensitive places. It has helped federal agencies minimize the environmental impact of the projects they oversee; it has allowed for public input into all planning efforts; and it established the Council on Environmental Quality — the first time there was a body within the Office of the President focused solely on the environment.

“Without these safeguards, our environment is at greater risk because our government will no longer have to look before it leaps. These regulations have served as a key tool for assuring the federal government acts as a responsible trustee for future generations.”