May 21, 2018

E&E News quotes Fred Wagner on the possibility of the NEPA overhaul cutting down permitting time

2 min

Fred Wagner was quoted on May 21, 2018, in E&E News on the overhaul by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The CEQ standards serve as the framework for NEPA permitting across the federal government. They got a minor amendment in 1986 under President Reagan, but otherwise, they've been untouched since they were first finalized in 1978.

"Anytime regulations are changed for the first time in more than 40 years—significantly changed—it's a big deal. The regulations have served the community pretty well for a long time, but I think there's a general sense that updating them in light of recent statutory changes, in light of recent administrative initiatives, makes sense," said Mr. Wagner.

According to the reporter, for an infrastructure project, the average time between the beginning of scoping and producing a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) is two years and 10 months, Ted Boling, associate director for NEPA at CEQ, said at a conference. Most projects don't require an environmental impact statement. And some of those inefficiencies come as the result of the individual agency policy or staffing, rather than CEQ's regulations.

Wagner said, "Still, delays on major projects that do require an EIS cost money year after year, and the two most recent major transportation bills—the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015—provide models of what CEQ might seek to change."

The entire EIS process involves CEQ drafting advance notice of proposed rulemaking to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which was done earlier this month, to give industry groups and environmentalists a chance to weigh in as public comments get under way in the coming months.

CEQ also issued a document in 1981, "Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act Regulations." The memo advises that even large, complex energy projects "would require only about 12 months for the completion of the entire EIS process."

"Those are just two of many examples of where critics of NEPA—namely, the transportation and energy industries—might be able to work with agencies to cut down permitting time within existing regulatory frameworks, but I think what people want to see is a little bit more oomph, for lack of a better word, in the regulations," Wagner said.