HomeNewsNEPA Reform Draws Supporters, Critics At Denver Listening Session

NEPA Reform Draws Supporters, Critics At Denver Listening Session

A day-long session held at the Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 office headquarters in Denver provided the initial opportunity for the public to voice their opinions regarding the updating of NEPA guidance by the Council on Environmental Quality. The aim is to simplify the process of generating environmental impact statements (EIS) and to provide clarity on regulations to ensure that projects are either approved or denied in a prompt and effective manner.

Former Interior Secretary and Colorado Attorney General Gail Norton, who has extensive experience in NEPA analysis spanning several decades, remarked on the significant changes in the process over time. She recalled “I’ve been involved with NEPA analysis for many years. The first time I was involved with preparing an environmental impact statement back in the 1980’s the final result was less than an inch thick. Today when we work out environmental impact statements we’re talking about bookshelves.” Norton made these comments in response to the Trump administration’s efforts to streamline permitting and review analysis for infrastructure and other projects governed by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The outdated regulations have slowed and impeded the development of needed infrastructure in communities across the nation. Environmental impact statements (EISs) for Federal highway projects have averaged over 7 years to complete and many reviews have taken a decade or more,” according to CEQ.

Signed into law in 1970, NEPA requires relevant federal agencies “to consider the environmental effects of proposed major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” This encompasses infrastructure ventures like roads and bridges, transmission lines, energy initiatives, water infrastructure, and the management of grazing, forests, and various other activities conducted on federal lands.

The proposed rule update aims to address 40 years of stagnant policy and the misuse of regulations, which have led to excessive paperwork and significant delays lasting years, if not decades, for projects to progress.

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During a press briefing on Monday preceding the public hearing, Norton highlighted the substantial increase in the scope of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirements for projects. She noted that federal agencies have significantly broadened these provisions in an attempt to anticipate objections and preempt litigation, yet despite these efforts, litigation still arises at nearly every stage of the review process.

“The analysis that’s really important, that gets to the critical issues for making decisions doesn’t have to be encumbered by delay and papering the process in order to withstand litigation,” Norton said. “It really ought be focused on the important decisions.”

Will Toor, Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office, expressed the state’s opposition to the proposed rule modernization during the session. . “Unfortunately the administration’s proposed changes to NEPA will move in the opposite direction” to what Toor described as Colorado’s push for renewables and climate change targets under Gov. Jared Polis’ administration. That included the consideration of “cumulative impacts” which Toor argued should remain.

Supporters of the proposed rule change echoed their agreement this week, emphasizing that prolonged delays in critical infrastructure projects disproportionately impact communities in need, particularly rural areas. These communities may face waiting periods of a decade or longer for project approval, exacerbating their challenges.

“I had a conversation with my airport manager as I was getting ready to fly out and they have a runway project that was delayed for over ten years. Which is a whole decade in terms of increasing the [cost of] infrastructure that we need for air service in rural communities,” said Diane Schwenke, CEO and President of Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

“In the most extreme cases of our grazing permittees have waited 30 years to have a simple grazing permit renewal process completed,” said Kaitlynn Glover, Executive Director Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “That’s not responsible for the grazing allotment, that’s not responsible for the wildlife that depend on it, and it’s certainly not responsible for our local economies. Talking about moving forward is an improvement to the process.”

“The National Environmental Policy Act plays a critical role,” said Denver City Council President Jolon Clark at a morning press conference for opponents of the proposed rule change. Calling NEPA a “bedrock” environmental protection, Clark said, “[a]ny rollback of NEPA is unacceptable.”

A further listening session is scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. on February 25th.

You may also enjoy reading: Western Caucus Introduces Bipartisan Package Of Bills Aimed To Reform, Update ESA.

Sarina Thapa
Sarina Thapa
Sarina Thapa is a dedicated writer and insightful editor with a passion for delivering engaging content across diverse topics. With a keen interest in news, entertainment, music, and fashion, Sarina brings a fresh perspective to her role at Western Wire, offering readers a comprehensive view of the latest trends and developments in these dynamic industries.

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