Changes are coming to NEPA

Written by Katie Rooks

September 28, 2023

Changes are coming to NEPA, the foundational law that governs most of SEACC’s work at the federal level. 

The Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced, on July 28, a Phase 2 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking—the “Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule”—to revise its regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including the amendments to NEPA by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. This was the “permitting reform” advocated for by Senator Manchin, Senator Murkowski, and others as a part of a series of compromises that included the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

CEQ is inviting comments until September 29. This link will take you directly to the comment form. 


Speak up about NEPA changes

Why NEPA matters to us

It’s no coincidence that SEACC and NEPA share a birth year: 1970. This law is what requires public comment periods and public process on federal lands — if you’ve ever commented on a federal timber sale, it’s likely that process was governed by NEPA. It’s been successful at protecting our natural resources and ensuring responsible development. It has also sometimes failed Tribes and can be misused by government agencies as they pursue development projects on public lands. 

The good

After a brief reading of a few excerpts of the document, SEACC and other groups have identified a few positive changes associated with the new regulations, specifically around climate change issues, environmental justice, consultation with tribes and environmental mitigation.

The bad

Unfortunately there are also areas that could substantially weaken NEPA and where SEACC sees room for improvement, including, but not limited to: lowering the threshold for Environmental Impact Statements, expanded categorical exclusions, weakened programmatic analysis, and less opportunity for public involvement.

The next steps

SEACC is working closely with Earthjustice and other partners to offer a comprehensive technical comment on this mixed bag of reforms and to make sure we cover Southeast Alaska’s bases. You can add your own comments here — tell them you support expediting zero-emission projects, increased consultation with tribes, and increased environmental mitigation requirements, but oppose expanded categorical exclusions, weakened analysis and restrictions on public involvement!

This is unlikely to be the final word on NEPA reform; we’ll continue to keep you posted as this process moves forward.

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