Beveridge & Diamond

CEQ Finalizes Guidance to Improve NEPA Reviews

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., March 13, 2012

On March 12, 2012, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) published final guidance entitled “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.”  It is intended to highlight existing legal tools to simplify and expedite NEPA review of major federal actions and encourage agencies to adopt such strategies.  The final guidance does not materially differ from draft guidance issued on December 13, 2011. 

The final guidance reiterates several key principles to guide agencies’ NEPA reviews.  These concepts include “straightforward and concise reviews,” NEPA integration into early project planning, use of existing analyses, early scoping, timelines for review, and proportionate responses to comments.  CEQ describes nine strategies to accomplish these goals, such as concise documentation (as opposed to “an encyclopedia of all applicable information”), interagency cooperation, concurrent (rather than sequential) reviews, incorporation by reference of preexisting information, and adoption of other agencies’ NEPA documents.  The guidance recognizes the need for “clear time lines for NEPA reviews,” but stops short of specifying a reasonable timeframe or instructing agencies to establish a firm schedule in every case.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the final guidance is its suggestion that regulatory procedures applicable to an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) should also apply to a less detailed Environmental Assessment (“EA”).  By their terms, CEQ and other agencies’ regulations frequently require certain steps, such as formal scoping and public comment on draft documents, only for an EIS.  The guidance suggests that scoping, early public participation, and other opportunities to improve the NEPA process for an EIS should likewise apply to an EA.  Finally, the guidance does not address tiering issues, reserving that topic for future guidance.

In practical terms, the guidance admittedly announces no new interpretations or strategies, and thus likely will not result in substantially altered administration of NEPA by agencies.  However, the guidance does reorient agencies and the public on the intended scope and purpose of NEPA reviews, and hopefully will result in measurable improvements.  Moreover, prompted by the final guidance, agencies may revisit and consistently modify their own NEPA implementing regulations to facilitate timely, effective, and efficient NEPA reviews.  Thus, the full effects of this new guidance are yet to be determined.

A copy of the final CEQ guidance can be found here

For more information on this guidance or its implications for a specific project, please contact Peter Schaumberg at (202) 789-6043,; Parker Moore at (202) 789-6028,; or James Auslander at (202) 789-6009,

For a printable PDF of this article, please click here




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