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New US rule on environmental regulation limits oversight in ‘modernization’ move
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New US rule on environmental regulation limits oversight in ‘modernization’ move

President Trump Wednesday announced his administration’s final rule in a multi-year “modernization” of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the nation’s foundational law for environmental protection.

A press release from the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) stated that “the announcement comes after a multi-year review of its NEPA regulations, and after receiving over 1.1 million public comments from a broad range of stakeholders on a variety of issues relating to the regulations, as well as hosting public hearings and conducting other public outreach.”

NEPA requires federal agencies to “consider the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” inform the public of development plans, consider alternatives, and receive public comments regarding those actions. The CEQ called existing NEPA regulations “complex and unnecessarily difficult to understand” They went on to claim that “the modernization regulations will promote more efficient, effective, and timely environmental reviews,” and will “incorporate key elements of President Trump’s One Federal Decision policy.”

President Trump first introduced One Federal Decision in Executive Order 13807 titled “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects” in August of 2017. The policy sets a goal of accelerating and completing environmental reviews of large-scale infrastructure projects within two years under federal supervision. The projects covered under the law include the construction of roads, bridges, highways, public transit, airports, power plants, and pipelines.

The CEQ’s new rule establishes several substantial changes to the NEPA. Among them:

  • Propositions to “retitle and revise” the “Purpose and Policy” section of NEPA to “promote concurrent and timely reviews and decision making consistent with statutes, Executive Orders, and CEQ guidance.”
  • New page limits for Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments.
  • Granting development applicants greater leeway in environmental review with “appropriate disclosure of financial or other interests with supervision and independent evaluation by the agency.”
  • Amending the definition of “major federal action” to exclude ventures “with minimal federal funding or involvement…” and allowing Agencies to independently determine what that means.
  • Eliminates agencies’ requirements to consider a project’s “indirect and/or cumulative effects” on the environment, specifying that agencies are only required to consider “reasonably foreseeable” impacts.

Before its full enactment, the CEQ’s final rule will be subject to congressional review.