White House Council on Environmental Quality Issues Draft Guidance to Promote Efficient Environmental Reviews
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today released for comment draft guidance for Federal agencies on improving the efficiency and timeliness of their environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft guidance, part of CEQ’s broader effort to modernize and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA, also supports the goals of President Obama's August 31, 2011 Memorandum on "Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review."
NEPA ensures that the Federal Government makes informed and transparent decisions when it evaluates actions that could have an impact on the environment. NEPA provides a number of techniques for preparing efficient and timely environmental reviews. The draft guidance highlights and clarifies these opportunities to encourage efficient, thorough environmental reviews and quicker and better informed Federal decisions.
“NEPA strives to give Americans transparent information about how the Federal Government’s actions will affect their communities and environment. It also ensures Federal agencies have the information they need to make decisions that are good for Americans,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Once finalized, this guidance will help agencies implement NEPA more efficiently and effectively to protect our environment and health and support vital economic growth.”
Currently, CEQ’s NEPA regulations describe efficiencies that can be applied when preparing Environmental Impact Statements, the most intensive type of NEPA environmental review. The draft guidance clarifies that these efficiencies can and should be applied to all types of environmental reviews, including Environmental Assessments. For example, the guidance makes it clear that scoping—a technique to identify the relevant review issues and eliminate unnecessary work—can and should be used for all types of environmental reviews.
The draft guidance outlines the following principles for agencies to follow when performing NEPA environmental reviews:
- NEPA encourages simple, straightforward, and concise reviews and documentation;
- NEPA should be integrated into project planning rather than be conducted after planning is complete;
- NEPA reviews should coordinate and take appropriate advantage of existing documents and studies;
- NEPA reviews should use early and well-defined scoping to target environmental reviews to appropriate issues and avoid unnecessary work;
- Agencies should develop meaningful and expeditious timelines for environmental reviews; and
- Agencies should target their responses to comments to appropriate issues raised.
The draft guidance will be available for 45 days of public comment following publication of the Federal Register notice. CEQ will review and consider all public input before finalizing the guidance next year.
Other Administration efforts to modernize and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA include launching a NEPA pilot program to identify and promote more efficient ways to do effective environmental reviews that can be replicated across the Federal Government, and forming rapid response teams to help expedite the review process for transportation, transmission and renewable energy projects.
The guidance is available at: http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/efficiencies-guidance