Docket No. CEQ-2023-0003
Business Roundtable CEOs lead U.S.-based companies that support one in four American jobs and almost a quarter of U.S. GDP. Through CEO-led policy committees, Business Roundtable members develop and advocate directly for policies to promote a thriving U.S. economy and expanded opportunity for all Americans. Business Roundtable CEOs have had a long-standing interest in making the permitting process more expeditious, predictable, and efficient while ensuring the quality of the human environment is protected and preserved. Because of our interest in permitting reform, and the key role the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) plays in federal permitting decisions, Business Roundtable filed comments on both the ANPRM and the NPRM associated with the 2020 rule amending the NEPA implementing regulations. We appreciate the opportunity to offer comments on these proposed regulations.
The U.S. is facing a myriad of infrastructure needs, including addressing climate change, rebuilding and improving existing infrastructure to support a growing economy, and ensuring secure supplies of critical minerals and materials to meet long-term security challenges. An efficient and predictable permitting process is indispensable to addressing these needs.
NEPA plays a central role in the federal permitting process, and so we are encouraged by the attention Congress and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) have given to improving the procedural steps agencies take in their required NEPA reviews.
Business Roundtable generally supports CEQ’s proposed regulatory text in several sections, as described in more detail below. Most of these changes either support implementation of changes made by Congress in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA) or maintain rule changes made in 2020 that CEQ recognizes “enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA process” and “add value to [it].” In some instances, we suggest additional clarification, but support the overall direction of the changes made to these sections, including proposed changes to encourage the use of categorical exclusions and programmatic Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) to the maximum extent permitted by law to help streamline reviews.
Unfortunately, however, CEQ has missed an important opportunity to improve NEPA’s implementing regulations in other respects and has reversed important reforms included in the 2020 regulations. At its core, NEPA is designed to improve decision making. NEPA itself does not mandate a particular result to reduce or eliminate environmental damage, and it does not provide an independent basis to either approve or disapprove a project. The proposed regulations would delete language from the 2020 regulations reinforcing this central fact and would make other changes that appear designed to convert NEPA into a substantive rather than procedural statute. The result likely will be more confusion by administering agencies regarding the central purpose of NEPA reviews.
An unfocused NEPA process that analyzes numerous alternatives that do not meet the needs of the project applicant, or are not within an agency’s authority to require, not only adds complexity, cost and time to review, but also complicates decision making and increases the risk of delaying litigation. We are concerned that many of the changes CEQ is proposing would do just that.
We urge CEQ, in its final regulations, to place greater emphasis on streamlining reviews and limiting their focus to key issues falling within an agency’s authority to address. Doing so will provide more useful, actionable information to decision makers.
Part I of these comments begins by explaining the importance of improving our permitting processes and the remarkable steps that Congress has taken toward that end. It then shows how CEQ’s proposed rule should be reoriented to reflect Congress’s intent and sense of urgency. Part II discusses the many significant aspects of the proposed rule that we support. Finally, Part III highlights particular provisions that should be clarified or corrected.