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On June 20, 2018, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued an advanced notice of proposed federal rulemaking, soliciting public comments on whether and how CEQ should update its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations. Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due July 20, 2018.

It has been forty years—an entire generation of environmental lawyers and court cases—since the last major revisions to CEQ’s NEPA regulations. The notice espouses the lofty goal of updating the regulations so as to “ensure a more efficient, timely, and effective NEPA process,” and asks for public input on a host of topics including:

  • Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to ensure that environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple agencies are conducted in a manner that is concurrent, synchronized, timely, and efficient, and if so, how?
  • Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to ensure optimal interagency coordination of environmental reviews and authorization decisions, and if so, how?
  • Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to programmatic NEPA documents and tiering be revised, and if so, how?

Of particular interest to public lead agencies and private applicants in California struggling with how to integrate and reconcile federal permitting and environmental review with the environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (NEPA’s state-level counterpart), the notice asks whether there are “additional ways CEQ’s NEPA regulations should be revised to promote coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions, such as combining NEPA analysis and other decision documents, and if so, how?”

This proposed rulemaking follows on the heels of Congress’s enactment of Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act in 2015 (FAST-41), as well as the President’s 2017 Executive Orders 13766 and 13807 and other guidance and directives issued since to help enhance and modernize the Federal environmental review and authorization process, particularly for important infrastructure projects involving multiple federal agency approvals.