On April 20, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) finalized a targeted regulation that restores three basic elements of its original NEPA regulations.
- The specific changes made by the “Phase 1” rule restore longstanding provisions that were modified for the first time in 2020; these 2020 changes caused implementation challenges for agencies and sowed confusion among stakeholders and the general public.
- The April 20 rulemaking is the first step in a two-phase approach that CEQ is taking to reform and modernize the NEPA regulations. This rule will go into effect on May 20, 2022.
- Over the coming months, CEQ will be proposing a “Phase 2” NEPA rulemaking that will provide further improvements to the environmental review process and reflect the administration’s commitment to achieving environmental justice and confronting climate change.
Here’s a summary of the Phase 1 NEPA regulation updates published on April 20, 2022 as excerpted from the CEQ website:
- Restores the requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making.
- What this means? Ensures agencies consider the “direct,” “indirect,” and “cumulative” impacts.
- Restores the full authority of agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs.
- What this means? This change would give agencies the flexibility to determine the “purpose and need” of a proposed project based on a variety of factors, and to work with project proponents and communities to mitigate or avoid environmental harm by analyzing common sense alternatives. The 2020 NEPA rule limited federal agencies’ ability to develop and consider alternative designs or approaches that did not fully align with the stated goals of the project’s sponsor, often a private company.
- Establishes CEQ’s NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies should be meeting.
- What this means? This restores the ability of federal agencies to tailor their NEPA procedures, consistent with the CEQ NEPA regulations, to help meet the specific needs of their agencies, the public and stakeholders.