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Modernizing the National Environmental Policy Act: Taking Steps to Improve Efficiency

The Council on Environmental Quality releases draft guidance to improve the efficiency and timeliness of Federal agencies' programmatic environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The President takes seriously the need for efficient permitting and decision making by Federal agencies. This week, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is releasing for comment draft Programmatic NEPA Guidance to improve the efficiency and timeliness of Federal agencies’ environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

Since it was signed into law in 1970, NEPA has been a cornerstone of our Nation’s modern environmental protections, ensuring that Federal agencies make informed and transparent decisions when evaluating actions that could have an impact on the environment. NEPA also ushered in a new era of citizen participation in government, providing the public with transparent information about how proposed Federal agency actions will affect their communities and environment. 

The draft Programmatic NEPA Guidance is part of the Administration’s broader efforts to expedite, modernize, and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA. Specifically, the draft guidance will clarify opportunities to conduct efficient and thorough environmental reviews; assist agency decision makers and the public in understanding the environmental impacts from proposed large-scope Federal actions and activities; and encourage a more consistent approach to programmatic NEPA reviews.

Since President Obama took office, CEQ has taken a series of actions to ensure that NEPA reviews are timely, informative, and useful for advancing decisions that result in better outcomes for our communities and environment. These efforts include:

·         providing new resources to assist Federal agencies in improving the efficiency of environmental reviews;

·         working with Federal agencies through a pilot program to identify innovative approaches that reduce the time and costs required for effective implementation of NEPA regulations;

·         improving conflict resolution practices; and

·         integrating and aligning the NEPA environmental review process with other Federal and State environmental reviews.

Programmatic reviews assess the environmental impacts of actions associated with broad Federal programs or policies, avoiding repetitive analyses that would occur if each action were analyzed individually.  Programmatic reviews may be followed by site-specific reviews, a process known as tiering, or they may serve as stand-alone NEPA reviews. 

CEQ will continue to work to identify new ways to increase efficient agency decision making while reducing environmental impact. To view the draft guidance, visit

Horst Greczmiel is Associate Director for NEPA Oversight at the White House Council on Environmental Quality