Farm Bureau Backs Proposal for More Efficient and Effective NEPA Rules - March 10, 2020
The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s proposal to update how it implements the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will advance the statute’s goal of promoting better environmental decisions in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The proposed changes will also reduce paperwork and delays, a relief to ranchers and foresters, who have had to wait up to a decade or more for NEPA-related authorizations. “We support the proposed rule because it will modernize and clarify NEPA regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective and timely NEPA reviews by simplifying and clarifying the regulatory requirements,” AFBF said in comments on the proposal. The proposal also better aligns the regulations with current technologies and agency practice and improves the format and readability of the regulations while reducing unnecessary paperwork. Farm Bureau referenced its support for specific aspects of the proposal, including language specifying that farm ownership and operating loan guarantees provided by USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the business loan guarantee programs of the Small Business Administration are not major federal actions. If something is considered a major federal action, it could trigger a NEPA analysis. That a simple loan or guarantee would require a NEPA analysis is contrary to the purpose and intent of NEPA and imposes a significant burden to borrowers. CEQ’s effort to clarify the threshold question of whether NEPA applies to a proposed federal action is also helpful, according to Farm Bureau. “Every decision that comes before the federal government is not a NEPA decision, nor should all federal decisions require NEPA analysis,” the group said. However, when an analysis is warranted, it should zero in on the relevant environmental aspects. To further minimize significant delays to meaningful and timely actions on federal land management projects, Farm Bureau supports the CEQ’s plan to identify and implement categories of federal actions that normally do not have significant effects and exclude them from detailed review. Limiting the preparation time and length of NEPA environmental analyses and environmental impact statements, as the CEQ is proposing, will also help prevent delays. “Agencies can meet these limits by focusing on issues and information that are most relevant to the decision before the agency. By implementing this streamlined approach, agencies can develop NEPA analyses that are easier to understand and more concise, but remain probative of significant issues,” Farm Bureau noted. The interagency coordination the CEQ is seeking would also be helpful, according to Farm Bureau, as would the council’s effort to bring additional predictability to the judicial review process without infringing on citizens’ rights to bring claims alleging violations of the statute.