On Tuesday, March 10, the comment period closed on the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to update its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
CEQ published its proposed rule on January 10, 2020 (see January 15, 2020 edition of the Environmental Law & Policy Monitor). CEQ’s proposed rule aims to update its regulations—which have not been modified since they were released in 1978—by streamlining the NEPA process and instituting changes to reduce delays and paperwork, and modifying the scope of agencies review of proposed actions.
CEQ received over 170,000 comments on the NOPR from a wide variety of groups, including environmental and conservation organizations, states and counties, Native American Tribes, industry and trade associations, renewable energy developers, and, as discussed in more detail below, organizations representing hydropower, electric cooperatives, public power corporations, and investor-owned utilities.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) filed comments generally supporting the NOPR’s changes to the NEPA process to make it more efficient while keeping the public sufficiently informed. Its comments also focused on the electric industry’s “clean energy transformation” and stated that agencies should, through their NEPA reviews, attempt to reasonably quantify greenhouse gas emissions to reduce challenges to environmental documents based on alleged failures to do so. EEI’s comments are available here.
The American Public Power Association (APPA) was generally supportive of CEQ’s NOPR and its efforts to streamline and modernize the NEPA process, but provided that CEQ should “continually look for ways to lessen the burden on agencies, applicants, contractors, and public participants” so that NEPA reviews can be completed on shorter timeframes. APPA’s comments are available here.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) filed comments supporting CEQ’s efforts to reform NEPA, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that the regulations are appropriately focused and streamlined to reduce burdens on NRECA members. NRECA’s comments are available here.
The National Hydropower Association (NHA) and the Northwest Hydroelectric Association (NWHA) also supported the proposed rule, expressing their appreciation for CEQ’s proposed revisions to clarify the roles of lead and cooperating agencies, revising several important definitions, and modifying the types of studies and information that can be used to develop NEPA documents. NHA’s comments, which were also supported by NWHA, are available here.
The next step in CEQ’s rulemaking is to evaluate all of the many thousands of comments received, consider all comments when preparing its final rule, and then to publish the final rule. It is not known at this time when CEQ expects to publish its final rule.