Council on Environmental Quality Releases Report on its Review of Minerals Management Service NEPA Procedures
WASHINGTON – The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today released a report on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures for environmental reviews by the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), the bureau in the Department of the Interior (DOI) that managed the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS).
The report found that MMS conducted numerous levels of extensive environmental reviews, relying upon the "tiering" process in which prior reviews should be incorporated into subsequent, site-specific analyses. When relying on tiering under NEPA, agencies must ensure that the environmental impacts are sufficiently evaluated and disclosed. In the report, CEQ offers several recommendations, which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), has committed to using as guideposts as it continues its reform and reorganization activities.
The recommendations are intended to promote more robust and transparent implementation of NEPA practices, procedures and policies. The recommendations include the following actions:
- Perform careful and comprehensive NEPA review of individual deepwater exploration activities, including site-specific information where appropriate.
- Track and take into account all mitigation commitments made in NEPA and decision documents that are used to determine the significance of environmental impacts, from the initial Programmatic EIS through site-specific NEPA analyses and decisions.
- Ensure that NEPA analyses fully inform and align with substantive decisions at all relevant decision points; that subsequent analyses accurately reflect and carry forward relevant underlying data; and that those analyses will be fully available to the public.
- Ensure that NEPA documents provide decisionmakers with a robust analysis of reasonably foreseeable impacts, including an analysis of reasonably foreseeable impacts associated with low probability catastrophic spills for oil and gas activities on the Outer Continental Shelf.
- Review the use of categorical exclusions for OCS oil and gas exploration and development in light of the increasing levels of complexity and risk – and the consequent potential environmental impacts – associated with deepwater drilling. Determine whether to revise these categorical exclusions.
- Continue to seek amendments to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to eliminate the 30-day decisional timeframe for approval of submitted Exploration Plans.
- Evaluate supplementing existing NEPA practices, procedures, and analyses to reflect changed assumptions and environmental conditions, due to circumstances surrounding the BP Oil Spill.
"Every agency in the executive branch of the Federal Government has a responsibility to apply NEPA when making decisions that could impact our environment," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "The recommendations in this report are targeted to ensure robust environmental reviews for future oil and gas exploration and development."
"In light of the increasing levels of complexity and risk – and the consequent potential environmental impacts – associated with deepwater drilling, we are taking a fresh look at the NEPA process and the types of environmental reviews that should be required for offshore activity," Salazar said. "We are committed to full compliance with both the letter and the spirit of NEPA. Our decision-making must be fully informed by an understanding of the potential environmental consequences of federal actions permitting offshore oil and gas development."
In enacting NEPA, Congress recognized that many Federal activities affect the environment in some way and mandated that before Federal agencies make decisions, they must consider the effects of their actions on the quality of the human environment. NEPA requires all Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental effects of their proposed actions and to engage the public before the agencies decide whether and how they will proceed. Complying with NEPA means agencies must complete NEPA environmental reviews of proposed actions, which may include broad planning efforts and specific projects.
In February, 2010, CEQ proposed steps to modernize and reinvigorate NEPA by issuing draft guidance on clarifying how agencies can establish and how agencies can then use categorical exclusions. Under the proposed draft guidance, CEQ would increase its oversight role under NEPA by regularly reviewing agencies' use of categorical exclusions. Complete draft guidance can be found at: http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa
The full CEQ review of MMS NEPA procedures can be found at: http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/mms-review