White House Announces Major Revisions to Permitting Regulations

On July 15, President Trump announced that his administration is scaling back requirements that agencies consider environmental consequences when approving new oil wells, pipelines, highways and other projects.
Revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will limit the scope of agency reviews as well as what projects warrant the scrutiny. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has stated that the average length of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is 645 pages, and the average time to conduct a full NEPA review on a project is 7.3 years.
Enacted in 1970, and with only minor changes since its inception, NEPA is the regulatory framework for protecting America's environment while allowing vital infrastructure projects to be undertaken. In recent years members of Congress and presidential administrations of both parties have sought to make changes to the complex regulatory system. APWA is supportive of previous efforts made to streamline regulations, including under the FAST Act and the “One Federal Decision” executive order.
President Trump has made regulatory streamlining a major part of his administration, and has reemphasized the need for reform in the face of the current economic downturn. 
The major change to NEPA under this final rule would be the removal of "cumulative impacts" as a consideration for review of infrastructure permits. Under the current rules, a federal agency must analyze a project’s indirect or “cumulative” effects on the environment. Under this final rule, the agency will only be required to analyze "reasonably foreseeable" impacts.
APWA submitted comments to CEQ in March regarding the proposed updates to the regulations implementing procedural provisions of NEPA. APWA’s comments reiterate the need for streamlining environmental regulations wherever possible, including:
  • Establishing time limits of two years for completion of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and one year for Environmental Assessments (EA);
  • Establishing a 300-page limit for each EIS and a 75-page limit for each EA;
  • Establishing a lead federal agency to develop a joint review schedule and preparation of a single EIS and joint record of decision for projects that require multi-agency reviews;
  • Excluding non-federal projects (or those with minimal federal funding or involvement) from the NEPA review process; and
  • Reducing duplication between federal, state and local governments by facilitating the use of documentation required by other statutes to comply with NEPA.
APWA’s comments also reinforce the need for state and local control in infrastructure projects. Additionally, APWA members do not support inserting a “shot-clock” regarding permit review in any update of the NEPA regulations. Finally, the comments make clear the need to keep “cumulative reviews” as a part of NEPA in order to accurately assess environmental impacts and resiliency of infrastructure.

To read a copy of APWA’s comments, please click here.