CEQ Proposes Rule to Modernize Environmental Reviews


The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has released its Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule, a proposed rule that includes streamlining of permitting and environmental reviews for solar and transmission projects on federal lands under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Sean Gallagher, senior vice president of policy for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) comments: “This is an important step in our national effort to decarbonize the economy while ensuring reliable, low-cost power, and we look forward to further collaboration with the administration to achieve our shared clean energy vision.”

Some of the proposed rule’s reforms will:

  • Accelerate the deployment of clean energy, transmission, broadband, clean water and other crucial infrastructure: In addition to coordinating environmental reviews and setting project schedules and milestones, clarifies that projects that only have significant, long-lasting positive impacts do not require environmental impact statements. Encourages the use of programmatic environmental reviews that cover multiple projects or categories of projects.
  • Address climate change, protect public health and encourage better environmental outcomes: Clarifies that agencies should consider climate change effects in environmental reviews and encourages identification of alternatives to mitigate climate impacts. Requires environmental impact statements to include discussion of relevant risk reduction, resiliency or adaptation measures and the potential for disproportionate adverse effects on the environment and health.
  • Advance environmental justice and promote meaningful public engagement: Encourages early interaction with communities, fostering community buy-in, reducing conflict and improving project design, which may reduce litigation. Directs agencies to consider environmental justice in environmental reviews and – for the first time – encourages agencies to take measures to avoid or reduce disproportionate effects on communities.
  • Reverse provisions of the 2020 NEPA rule that created litigation risks and jeopardized community input: Deletes certain changes instituted by the previous administration, such as onerous requirements for public comments to be considered by agencies; provisions that curtailed judicial review; and a provision that attempted to limit the ability of courts to provide injunctive relief when there are violations of NEPA – even if a proposed action could threaten public health or safety.

This proposal is Phase 2 of CEQ’s NEPA rulemaking. Last year, CEQ finalized a targeted regulation that restored three basic elements of its NEPA regulations, including a reaffirmation that federal agencies must evaluate all relevant environmental effects – including those associated with climate change – during environmental reviews..

For complete details on the proposed reforms, visit the Federal Register.

The proposed rule will be open for public comment through Friday, September 29, 2023 via Regulations.gov. CEQ will hold virtual public meetings on the proposal on Saturday, August 26; Wednesday, August 30; Monday, September 11; and Thursday, September 21. For information about joining these public meetings, visit CEQ/NEPA.

Image by Uwee Westphal from Pixabay

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