The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently issued draft guidance designed to promote more efficient environmental reviews of projects subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA is a procedural statute that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions before deciding to adopt a proposal or to take action. NEPA is triggered when there is a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Although the current NEPA-implementing regulations provide methods for preparing efficient and timely environmental reviews, the CEQ’s proposed guidance will emphasize and clarify those methods. Specifically, the guidance outlines the following principles for agencies to follow when conducting a NEPA review:
- NEPA encourages simple, straightforward, and concise reviews
- The NEPA process should begin early and should be integrated into project planning
- NEPA reviews should adopt, use, and incorporate existing documents and studies
- Targeted scoping can assist to focus environmental reviews on appropriate issues
- Agencies should develop expeditious timelines for environmental reviews
- Agencies should respond to comments in proportion to the scope and scale of the environmental issues raised
In addition, the draft guidance clarifies that many provisions of the existing regulations referring to an environmental impact statement (EIS) can also apply to an environmental assessment (EA). The draft guidance also provides measures to eliminate duplication of efforts and to promote better interagency interaction.
The draft guidance would promote a clear and more streamlined environmental review process under NEPA that would benefit agencies, project proponents, and others interested in the NEPA process. The CEQ is accepting public comment on the draft guidance until January 27, 2012.