National Environmental Policy Act: Same old, same old?

The Associated Builders and Contractors joined a coalition of stakeholders in a response to the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking revising implementation of new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provisions. ABC filed comments supporting a streamlined approach to the permitting process under NEPA to reduce delays hindering critical projects, resulting in better infrastructure, a stronger economy and continued environmental stewardship.

Under former President Donald Trump, the CEQ issued an ABC-supported final rule in 2020 that modernized the federal environmental review process and provided a coordinated, predictable and transparent method to expedite permitting under NEPA. The proposed rule would restore or establish regulatory provisions that were in effect before the 2020 rulemaking, most notably: 

  • A requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making;
  • Agencies’ full authority to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs; and,
  • Treat CEQ’s NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies should meet.

In its comments, the coalition urged CEQ to retain provisions from the 2020 final rule that convey needed clarity and maintain consistency with the original 1978 NEPA rulemaking plus decades of case law. Additionally, the coalition expressed concerns that the proposed revisions would hinder NEPA’s goal of more informed agency decisions. The proposed rule is the first step of a two-step process to revise the 2020 NEPA regulations. While phase one will propose a narrow set of changes to the NEPA regulations, phase two will propose broader changes to the final rulemaking.

ABC has advanced legislative and regulatory efforts to modernize and create a more efficient NEPA review process, including support for H.R. 8333, the Building U.S. Infrastructure Through Limited Delays & Efficient Reviews (BUILDER) Act, during the 116th Congress. In March 2021, ABC joined dozens of members of the Unlock American Investment Coalition in calling on Congress to improve and modernize the federal permitting process under NEPA.

Citing unnecessary project delays from long standing NEPA protocol, coalition members noted in a letter to Congress: “Presidents from both parties have long identified the need for faster, more efficient permitting, issuing executive orders to expedite federal decision-making and accelerate project delivery. Adopting permit streamlining policies in conjunction with any infrastructure bill would reduce delays and improve the predictability of the federal permitting process, allowing businesses to plan and invest with confidence while enhancing economic productivity and environmental stewardship. This is a priority with bipartisan support and we are committed to work with you to ensure its inclusion in forthcoming infrastructure legislation.”