NEPA Revisions Look to Expedite Projects and Reduce Litigation

Brian German Agri-Business, Regulation

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) received its first comprehensive update in more than 40 years. The NEPA revisions were issued by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  The final rule that was published modernizes and clarifies the regulations to provide more efficiency in the review process. The amendments will also help to foster better interagency coordination and transparency of the environmental review process.

NEPA revisions

“The modernized NEPA rule brings common sense back to an important rule that was established to protect our land and water resources,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Marty Smith said in a news release. “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 CEQ cited the fact that NEPA is one of the most litigated environmental laws in the country as being one of the fundamental reasons for the revision. The process to conduct a NEPA review can also take upwards of four years and require more than 600 pages of documentation. The NEPA revisions will simplify the process, requiring Environmental Impacts Statements to be completed within two years, and establishing a one-year time limit for Environmental Assessments.

 “Over the last four decades, ranchers learned and adapted to new needs of wildlife and other rangeland users, but outdated NEPA policy prevented us from responding to many critical situations,” said Public Lands Council President Bob Skinner. “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.”

The NEPA revisions also narrow the scope for evaluating the impacts related to a proposed project. The rule eliminates the need to consider direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of a proposed action, instead now focusing on the reasonably foreseeable effects that have a reasonably close causal relationship to the action. The intention of clarifying the language of the rule is to prevent exhaustive litigation related to its interpretation.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West