Commonsense Reforms to Federal Reviews Key to Economic Prosperity

Last edited 02/15/2023

Date: Wednesday, July 15, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced its finalized rule, Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, modernizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to accelerate environmental reviews, improve American infrastructure, and advance a smarter regulatory agenda for the American people. 

The press release, fact sheet, and other supporting documents from CEQ on the final rule are available online.

“Today’s action would have never happened without President Trump’s bold leadership and vision. For far too long, critically important projects had been needlessly paralyzed by red tape. This commonsense reform will dramatically improve the federal government’s decision-making process, while also ensuring that the environmental consequences of proposed projects are thoughtfully analyzed,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.

Signed into law in 1970, NEPA mandates federal agencies assess the environmental impacts of proposed federal actions as part of their decision-making. The NEPA process impacts our everyday lives from the construction of transportation infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports to renewable and conventional energy projects to building new Indian schools. The impacts are widespread and significant, impacting Americans’ quality of life and the economic prosperity of the United States.

It currently takes the federal government an average of 4.5 years to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS). At the Department of the Interior (Department), similar delays have slowed progress on critical projects in the past. During the Obama Administration, environmental reviews took an average of:

  • 6.64 years for the National Park Service;
  • 5.36 years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA);
  • 4.36 years for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM);
  • 5.32 years for the Bureau of Reclamation;
  • 5.29 years for the Office of Surface mining Reclamation and Enforcement;
  • 4.75 years for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and
  • 2.01 years for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Department has improved its administrative processes to streamline environmental review as outlined in President Trump’s Executive Order 13807: Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects. In 2017, the Secretary of the Interior issued Secretary’s Order 3355, which implemented a new, streamlined process for infrastructure and energy projects, complementing the President’s EO.

In accordance with all laws and regulations, the Department has implemented organizational efficiencies to reduce the number of pages included in an environmental review and the time needed to complete the review. Since S.O. 3355 was issued, the average number of years from the notice of intent to the record of decision has plummeted from 5 years and 850 pages in length down to 1.5 years and 145 pages in length. 

Delayed Permitting Delays Benefits to Communities

In Arizona, the Ray Land Exchange took 26 years to complete after being stalled by frivolous litigation and a burdensome environmental review process that took 10 years. Under the land exchange, the BLM acquired more than 7,000 acres of private land to better manage wildlife migration corridors and improve access to existing public lands for hunting and other family recreation. In exchange, the BLM transferred nearly 10,000 acres of public land adjacent to ASARCO’s Ray Mine Complex and Copper Butte properties near Kearny for a mine expansion. The project wasn’t completed until 2020 when Secretary Bernhardt officially handed over the patents during a ceremony in Prescott, Arizona.

In the Pacific Northwest, PacifiCorp, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and Idaho Power jointly proposed to design, construct, operate and maintain a new 500 kilovolt, single-circuit electric transmission line from a proposed substation near Boardman, Oregon to the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho. The project was initiated in 2007. The record of decision wasn’t issued until 10 years later in 2017. Because of this unnecessary delay, additional reliable and affordable power is not expected to be available to the region until the project is in service in 2024.

On the Ground Progress Continues

The regulations finalized by CEQ today further build on the successes already accomplished by the Department since streamlining current processes to reduce timelines for environmental reviews. Within the Moapa River Indian Reservation in Clark County, Nevada, BIA, and the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians prepared an EIS for the Eagle Shadow Mountain Solar Project in February of 2019. The project will have a capacity of 300 megawatts 2,200-acre lease area and includes approximately 12.5-mile long electric transmission line that would cross Tribal, Federal, and private lands. The record of decision was released just 12 months later. Streamlining the permitting process meant delivering reliable renewable energy to the tribal community more quickly and efficiently. 

In 2018, the Campo Band of Diegueño Mission Indians sought to lease land to Terra-Gen Development Company, a solar company for the development, construction, and operation of a wind farm. The project will generate of up to 252 megawatts consisting of up to 60 turbines. This project was approved, and the record of decision was rendered 15 months later, meaning the tribe and surrounding area could quickly access affordable and renewable energy for their communities.

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