NEPA Overhaul: Timely Article Published by College of Natural Resources

— Written By

The Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality recently proposed administrative rules to revise agency requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). NC State University’s College of Natural Resources recently published a piece on the proposed changes on their website.

In a nutshell, NEPA – considered to be our nation’s first environmental law – requires the federal government to study and publicly disclose the environmental impact of “major government actions which significantly affect the human environment.”  The law generally requires the agency leading the action to explore the environmental impacts of various alternatives of proposed action – such as a federally-funded project or issuance of a federal permit to a privately-funded project – and publicize the impacts for comment by the public. NEPA does allow agencies to exclude certain actions from this public disclosure requirement.

The federal courts – through years of case law challenging federal projects under NEPA – generally require the agency to take an in-depth “hard look” at environmental impacts of all the alternatives, including the alternative of “no action.”  However, NEPA does not require the federal agency to choose the least environmentally impactful alternative. Environmental groups have scored success in various federal courts by deploying NEPA to halt various projects, notably fossil fuel conveyance projects such as the Keystone XL Pipeline (disallowing a reversal of Obama-era opposition to the pipeline on scientific account of climate change).