CEQ’s Empty Promises On Permit Streamlining

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The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently finalized its Phase II rule under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which it is touting as a “Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule” to “reform, simplify and modernize” the federal environmental review process. While this sounds pretty good on the surface, a closer examination of the rule reveals that its “bipartisan” label is misleading, and the rule may ultimately do more to slow down energy and infrastructure projects than speed them up—which is at odds with the will of Congress.

First, the CEQ rule adds new climate change analysis requirements to NEPA reviews, including quantification of greenhouse gas emissions where possible and consideration of impacts in other countries. The rule also elevates environmental justice (EJ) into almost a foundational principle of NEPA, labelling situations as “extraordinary circumstances” when EJ concerns are present. While engagement with EJ communities is important, increased participation can also result in delays and added costs for project developers.

One of the more controversial aspects of the rule is its apparent bias toward renewable energy projects. The rule directs agencies to identify “environmentally preferable alternative(s)”, which likely refers to putting renewable energy projects on a separate, expedited track. This preferential treatment risks distorting markets and undermining the principles of fair competition. The White House’s claim of “speeding up” the permitting process and “providing more certainty” for project sponsors is therefore disingenuous, as it only applies to a select group of projects.

Read the full article on Forbes.