The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions as part of the decision-making process. Signed into law in 1970, NEPA covers a range of actions — permit application decisions, loans and other project funding, federal land management grants and easements, and highway and publicly owned facility construction — that agencies must evaluate in relation to the environmental, economic and social effects of these actions.
Historically, projects that require NEPA analysis have taken longer to obtain approvals due to the intricacies of the process, including developing and reviewing an environmental analysis for multiple alternatives over a wide variety of natural and social resources. In early 2020, changes to NEPA were formalized, which were designed to shorten agency review times and reduce the amount of time needed to complete the agency approval process and begin breaking ground.
As the U.S. emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the top priorities indicated by the new federal administration is to stimulate job growth and economic recovery through new infrastructure projects. With a focus on environmental reform, the administration issued an executive order, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” that directs agencies to assess the current state of NEPA regulations. Additionally, Executive Order 13766, “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects,” was revoked in January 2021.
As the administration issues additional executive orders and potentially looks to revise or roll back NEPA changes from the prior administration, agencies and project sponsors are left uncertain as to what environmental review requirements or timelines will ultimately be required. With these changes, more advanced planning will likely be needed to stay in line with the NEPA process while meeting infrastructure project deadlines.
There is no date or timeline established for any proposed modifications to NEPA; however, it is likely that additional, ongoing changes could be executed. As more information and clarity on the implications of the implementation of these regulations become available, Burns & McDonnell will keep clients informed and updated.
In the meantime, agencies and project owners seeking to perform infrastructure work need to plan ahead, begin addressing the NEPA process early and work with a trusted partner that has the resources and flexibility to navigate likely changing regulations.
Our experienced team can help you navigate the NEPA process for your projects.