While not making the headlines or evening news reports, recent changes stemming from White House Executive Orders are making a significant impact to the environmental review process nationwide. Here is a summary of the changes and what they mean to you.
On August 24, 2017, President Trump published Executive Order 13807: Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects. The intent of the order, as summed up in the Secretary of the Interior Order Number 3355: Streamlining NEPA Reviews and Implementation of Executive Order 13807, is to: “1) focus on issues that truly matter rather than amassing unnecessary detail; 2) reduce paperwork, including by setting appropriate page limits; 3) discuss briefly issues that are not significant; and 4) prepare analytic (rather than encyclopedic) documents, among other measures.”
These orders tasked the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), which oversees NEPA, to create a list of actions aimed at reducing the average time for environmental review and approval. They also limit the number of pages of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to 150 pages, with an allowance of up to 300 pages for “complex” projects, as well as a completion date within 365 days. Essentially, this means that ESA must conduct its same thorough analysis, but synthesize it in a much tighter format.
ESA has already successfully submitted reports that comply with these orders, delivering thorough documentation and information regarding environmental impacts to the public and decision makers, at an appropriate level of detail while also adhering to page limits:
- In April, ESA successfully delivered under the 300-page bar on the Draft EIR/EIS for the North Bay Water Reuse Program Phase 2, involving 20 EIR-level analyses and coordination with a dozen agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation staff, this is the first page-limited EIS in the Bureau’s West Region, if not Bureau-wide.
- In June, ESA worked with the Bureau of Land Management to provide a 20-page Environmental Assessment for the PG&E Strength Testing and In-Line Inspection Project, which was among the first “abridged EAs” to be approved.