More than 30 groups representing a wide swath of U.S. industry, including the American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have called on the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to issue updates on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
"We fully support the fundamental goals of NEPA to appropriately consider the potential environmental impacts of certain federal actions," the groups said in a letter to CEQ Friday. "However, CEQ regulations guiding NEPA processes have not been comprehensively updated in nearly four decades. During this time, securing approval for projects and land management decisions has become hampered by unreasonable costs and long project delays. It is time to modernize NEPA processes."
CEQ's proposed NEPA updates have been under review at the White House since October.
CEQ issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in June 2018, posing 20 questions over whether and how the agency should modify its regulations under NEPA. The questions were sorted into three categories, covering the NEPA process itself, the scope of NEPA review and general questions.
Among them, CEQ asked respondents if NEPA regulations should 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." In addition, it asked if revisions were necessary "to make the NEPA process more efficient" by using earlier environmental studies conducted by federal, state, tribal and local agencies.
CEQ also asked whether some NEPA terms, definitions and documents should be revised.
The ANPR satisfied an executive order (EO) from President Trump in August 2017 that called for the federal government to expedite its review and permitting of major infrastructure projects, including oil and natural gas pipelines. The EO drew immediate praise from trade associations representing the oil and gas industry.
In April 2018 CEQ issued a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the White House Office of Management and Budget calling for faster federal review and permitting of the projects. The MOU was signed by the Departments of Interior (DOI) and Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Revisions to the NEPA review process should aim to increase transparency and predictability as well as coordination between federal agencies to eliminate unnecessary barriers that prevent or delay the implementation of important projects," the industry groups said. "Improved regulatory predictability would allow businesses to plan and invest with confidence while enhancing economic productivity and efficiency.
"Such process improvements would also encourage many states and localities to follow federal leadership on approving infrastructure projects and land management activities."