The Trump administration issued a final rule on Wednesday to modernize and expedite environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, marking the first time in 40 years the act has seen any reform.
According to a White House press briefing, the NEPA reform marks the end of a multi-year review, which produced more than 1.1 million public comments and involved a broad range of stakeholders.
In making the announcement, President Trump said the NEPA reform package would “right-size the federal government’s environmental review process,” noting that “the federal environmental review process has historically been far too complex, costly, and time consuming. "
“Since NEPA’s enactment, the environmental review process has been burdensome for both Federal agencies conducting reviews, and Americans seeking permits or approvals,” Trump said. “Environmental impact statements average over 650 pages, and it takes Federal agencies on average four and a half years to conduct required reviews.”
With a focus on cutting costs and time, the reforms mean that critical infrastructure can be built in a more timely, efficient, and affordable manner. “Together, these common-sense reforms will slash unnecessary government bureaucracy and accelerate important infrastructure projects all across the Nation,” Trump said.
The NEPA reform measures establish a two-year time limit for completion of environmental impact statements when required, and a one-year time limit for completion of environmental assessments.
According to the Council on Environmental Quality, environmental impact statements for highway projects take more than seven years on average to complete, with some taking 10 years or more. NEPA reviews are also frequently challenged in court.
Those delays challenge businesses and communities to plan, finance, and build infrastructure projects, CEQ said in an impact analysis, predicting the NEPA reform would be “economically significant,” given potential cost savings to the Federal government as well as economy-wide impacts.
“According to some estimates, it will cost a total of $4.6 trillion through 2025 to modernize infrastructure nationwide,” CEQ reported. “Large infrastructure projects frequently require preparation of an EIS, and one estimate found that the cost of a 6-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.9 trillion, including the cost of prolonged inefficiencies and avoidable pollution.”
Saying the modernization of the federal environmental review process is long overdue but welcomed news, Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski, a Tuscola County farmer, said the NEPA reforms will still protect the environment while benefitting Michigan’s overall economy — specifically production agriculture.
“This is about smart government and promoting more effective and timely Federal environmental reviews, not weakening environmental protection or regulations” Bednarski said. “Whether infrastructure projects are approved or denied, the goal is to avoid projects being in limbo for four years or more.”
According to Bednarski, protracted environmental reviews cause unnecessary delays to critical infrastructure improvements and pose risks to necessary long-term investments.
“Michigan farmers and forest professionals are often impacted by NEPA delays holding up federally-guaranteed financing for projects to modernize farm infrastructure for better economic and environmental performance, as well as timber contract reviews that require new analyses of already-approved forest roads,” Bednarski said.
“These delays not only cost farmers and forest professionals time and money, but also hinders Michigan’s ability to respond quickly to changing demands in food, fiber, and fuel markets,” he added.
Laura Campbell, manager of MFB’s Ag Ecology Department, says the updated regulation keeps public input on projects intact, which is essential to ensuring projects are evaluated in a comprehensive manner, including management of public lands, forests, and waters.
“NEPA modernization will promote more efficient, effective, and timely Federal environmental reviews, on a broad range of project impacting rural Michigan, including federally funded construction of roads, bridges, highways, public transit, airports,” Campbell said. “It will also benefit conventional and renewable energy production and distribution, electricity transmission, water infrastructure, broadband deployment.”