Insights
Publications

Trump Administration Continues Project Permitting Streamlining Efforts

6/21/2018 Articles

The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced on June 20, 2018 that it is considering updating its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Specifically, the CEQ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on 20 questions regarding NEPA process and procedures under its existing regulations. Because CEQ oversees NEPA implementation for all federal agencies, potential changes to its regulations could result in wide-ranging permitting changes for projects requiring federal approvals or funding. 

The CEQ’s announcement is the most concrete effort yet by the Trump Administration to streamline federal permitting processes. To date, the administration has focused on policy directives and guidance which, while binding federal agencies, do not carry the force and effect of law. These include Executive Order 13807 which generally aims to ease permitting for major infrastructure projects by creating a single lead federal agency, accountability tracking and two-year timeline to complete NEPA review, and actions by individual agencies such as the Interior Department which has issued a follow-on Secretarial Order and implementation guidance to establish, among other things, page limits for Environmental Impact Statements and time limits to complete EISs. Federal agencies and staff are still sorting through implementation of these informal directives and the practical effect on project permitting remains unclear.

The potential for changes to NEPA’s implementing regulations would likely result in far more concrete and broader reaching impacts on permitting federal projects. Although the CEQ announcement does not provide direction on changes it is considering, CEQ is soliciting comments in furtherance of the directives identified in Executive Order 13807. Executive Order 13807 directed CEQ to “enhance and modernize” the federal environmental review process by “ensuring optimal interagency cooperation,” facilitating reliance on studies conducted in support of earlier environmental reviews, and “ensur[ing] that agencies apply NEPA in a manner that reduces unnecessary burdens and delays as much as possible, including by using CEQ’s authority to interpret NEPA to simplify and accelerate the NEPA review process.” 

The questions CEQ posed indicate that it is considering both procedural and substantive changes to the regulations. These include:

  • Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to ensure that environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple agencies are conducted in a manner that is concurrent, synchronized, timely, and efficient, and if so, how?
  • Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to provide greater clarity to ensure NEPA documents better focus on significant issues that are relevant and useful to decision makers and the public, and if so, how?
  • Should definitions of any key NEPA terms in CEQ’s NEPA regulations such as those listed below, be revised, and if so, how? 
    1. Major Federal Action;
    2. Effects;
    3. Cumulative Impact;
    4. Significantly;
    5. Scope; and
    6. Other NEPA terms.
  • Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to the appropriate range of alternatives in NEPA reviews and which alternatives may be eliminated from detailed analysis be revised, and if so, how?

Comments in response to CEQ’s questions are due on or before July 20, 2018. Thereafter, should CEQ decide to move forward, it would issue a notice of proposed rulemaking setting out specific proposed changes to its NEPA regulations and requesting public comments on those changes.

Firm Highlights

Publication

Re-Imagining Environmental Governance: The Future of Environmental Law

Not to dwell on the past, but I have been struck of late reading obituaries of certain leading figures in environmental law by a recurrent theme, which is essentially captured by the following quote:...

Read More
Publication

The Uncertain Future of California’s Vehicle Emission Standards

Read More
Publication

Discharges Through Groundwater: Fourth Circuit Expands CWA Jurisdiction

Published by the ABA Environment & Energy Section  by Sarah Peterman Bell, David Lazerwitz and Brian Wantz A recent ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals signals a marked expansion of jurisdiction and...

Read More
Event

Identifying and Preparing Expert Witnesses for Trial

How do you identify the key experts you need for trial? Once you have them, what are the best practices for preparing them for trial? How do these practices vary depending on your venue, and...

Read More
Publication

San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board Adopts General Permit for Vineyard Properties in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek Watersheds

Over the last several years, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, for the San Francisco Bay Region (Water Board), determined that adoption of Waste Discharge Requirements were needed to better protect the Napa River...

Read More
Event

CWA Regulation of Discharges to Groundwater: Permitting Uncertainty in Light of Circuit Court Split

Sarah Bell will speak on the Strafford live webinar, "CWA Regulation of Discharges to Groundwater: Permitting Uncertainty in Light of Circuit Court Split." This CLE webinar will discuss the "indirect discharge" theory of Clean...

Read More
News

Farella Braun + Martel Wins Benchmark Litigation 2019 San Francisco Firm of the Year Award

SAN FRANCISCO, March 15, 2019: Farella Braun + Martel announces it has been named “San Francisco Firm of the Year” by Benchmark Litigation . Farella Partner Douglas Young accepted the award on behalf of...

Read More
Publication

Emerging Contaminants: Coming to an NRD Site Near You!

What Are Emerging Contaminants? Emerging contaminants are chemicals in the environment for which the health risks—both human and ecological—remain unknown. They are also sometimes called contaminants of emerging concern, since the chemicals, or products...

Read More
News

Linda Sobczynski Accepted Into 2019 Clean Energy Leadership Institute Fellowship Program

Read More
News

Farella Attorneys Honored With 2019 CLAY Award for M&A Deal

Read More