- The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality on Friday proposed measures that could speed up permitting for clean energy and other projects on federal land.
- Besides setting deadlines for project reviews, the proposed National Environmental Policy Act rule encourages “programmatic” environmental reviews that cover multiple projects or categories of projects, which can speed up development of clean energy, transmission and other infrastructure, CEQ said.
- “These reforms to federal environmental reviews will deliver better decisions, faster permitting, and more community input and local buy-in,” Brenda Mallory, CEQ chair, said.
The proposal published Monday in the Federal Register is the Biden administration’s second round of NEPA reforms, which partly undid changes made during the Trump administration. An initial set of changes took effect last year.
NEPA requires federal agencies to review how their actions, such as issuing permits, may affect the environment. The proposal sets a one-year deadline for agencies to issue environmental assessments and a two-year target for more rigorous environmental impact statements.
The proposal includes revisions driven by permitting reforms in the debt ceiling bill, which was signed into law last month.
It also clarifies that agencies should consider climate change effects in their environmental reviews and encourages them to identify reasonable alternatives that would mitigate climate impacts, CEQ said.
Under the proposal, federal agencies are encouraged to use “high-quality” information to describe reasonably foreseeable environmental trends, including those caused by climate change, CEQ said.
Agencies would need to consider environmental justice in environmental reviews, according to the proposal. For the first time, agencies would be encouraged to try to avoid or reduce disproportionate effects on communities, including the cumulative effects of pollution, CEQ said.
“The Biden administration deserves credit for requiring federal agencies to consider environmental justice and climate change in their decisions, which courts have long said they must do,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The Interior Department and too many other agencies keep approving disastrous fossil fuel projects while giving lip service to the climate emergency.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association supports the proposal. “We are glad to see the White House prioritize environmental justice and community engagement in NEPA reviews, as well as setting clear review deadlines that will keep projects moving forward in a timely manner,” Sean Gallagher, SEIA senior vice president of policy, said in a statement.
The American Clean Power Association said it generally supports the proposal, but Congress must pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation to make the permitting process for clean energy projects and infrastructure more efficient.
At least one group contends the proposal could slow the permitting process.
The proposal is “a step in the wrong direction,” according to Marty Durbin, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of policy.
“Despite all the momentum to enact meaningful permitting reform in Congress and supportive statements from the Biden administration, we’re disappointed that it has proposed yet another rule that will add additional subjective permitting requirements, increase litigation risks, and slow things down,” Durbin said.
The proposed rule is open for public comment through Sept. 29.