The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has issued new guidance titled “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews Under the National Environmental Policy Act” (NEPA Efficiency Guidance) that encourages federal agencies to “provide the best use of agency resources in ensuring a timely, effective, and efficient NEPA review.” The NEPA Efficiency Guidance highlights existing provisions under the CEQ regulations implementing NEPA (40 CFR Parts 1500–1508) that help meet this objective. These provisions are available for the preparation of EAs, as well as EISs, and the Guidance encourages their use in an “effective process that is tailored to avoid excessive burden.”
The final NEPA Efficiency Guidance is in line with strategies contained in the August 2011 Presidential Memorandum, “Speeding Infrastructure Development Through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review,” and it sets forth means by which the CEQ NEPA Regulations support those strategies. The Guidance features techniques and tools organized by the following topics: concise NEPA documents; early NEPA integration in planning; scoping; inter-governmental coordination (state, local, or tribal environmental reviews); coordinating reviews and documents under other applicable laws; adoption; incorporation by reference; expediting responses to comments; and clear timelines for NEPA reviews.
CEQ’s NEPA Efficiency Guidance encourages agencies to be mindful of six key principles in conducting environmental reviews pursuant to NEPA:
- NEPA encourages straightforward and concise reviews and documentation that are proportionate to potential impacts and effectively convey the relevant considerations to the public and decisionmakers in a timely manner while rigorously addressing the issues presented;
- NEPA shall be integrated into project planning to ensure planning and decisions reflect environmental considerations, avoid delays later in the process, and anticipate and attempt to resolve potential issues rather than be an after-the-fact process that justifies a decision already made;
- NEPA reviews should coordinate and take appropriate advantage of existing documents and studies, including through adoption and incorporation by reference;
- Early and well-defined scoping can assist in focusing environmental reviews on appropriate issues that would be meaningful to a decision;
- Agencies are encouraged to develop meaningful and expeditious timelines for environmental reviews; and
- Agencies should respond to comments in proportion to the scope and scale of the environmental issues raised.