Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule implements new permitting efficiencies included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act; includes additional reforms to improve federal permitting processes

WASHINGTON — As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s all-of-government effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal permitting processes, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today finalized a rule to reform, simplify, and modernize the federal environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new rule will build on more than $1 billion from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to expedite federal agency permitting, the President’s Permitting Action Plan, and other ambitious permitting reforms occurring across the Administration to help accelerate environmental reviews while ensuring strong environmental protections, robust community engagement, and better coordination with states, Tribes, and local governments.

CEQ’s Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule fully implements new permitting efficiencies that the President secured in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, including setting clear deadlines for agencies to complete environmental reviews, requiring a lead agency and setting specific expectations for lead and cooperating agencies, and creating a unified and coordinated federal review process.

In addition to implementing the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the rule provides agencies with other new and faster tools to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental reviews. For example, it creates new ways for federal agencies to establish categorical exclusions, the fastest form of environmental review. The rule will also help accelerate reviews for projects that agencies can evaluate on a broad, programmatic scale, or that incorporate measures to mitigate adverse effects. These updates will help industry by speeding up environmental reviews and providing more certainty when they are designing projects.

Finally, the new rule promotes early public engagement in environmental review processes to help reduce conflict, accelerate project reviews, improve project design and outcomes, and increase legal durability. Together, these reforms will help accelerate permitting for everything from wildfire management and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to high-speed internet and semiconductor manufacturing.

“President Biden has unleashed historic investments to build our clean energy future, make long-overdue infrastructure upgrades across the nation, and deliver benefits to communities that have been historically left behind,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “These reforms will deliver smarter decisions, quicker permitting, and projects that are built better and faster. As we accelerate our clean energy future, we are also protecting communities from pollution and environmental harms that can result from poor planning and decision making while making sure we build projects in the right places.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to accelerate progress on transmission permitting and build a clean energy future,” said John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for International Climate Policy. “Today’s final rule from CEQ fully implements the permitting efficiencies passed by Congress last year and shows the latest way President Biden is accelerating permitting for critical infrastructure.”

“President Biden has unleashed unprecedented private and public sector investments across the country through his Investing in America agenda – rebuilding our roads and bridges, building a clean energy economy, and investing in new, innovative industries here in the United States,” said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Natalie Quillian. “We know that in order to achieve our Investing in America and climate goals, more projects must come online more quickly – all in an environmentally responsible way. We are working across the federal government and with partners in industry and the environmental community to make sure our approach to permitting is smart, durable, and benefits communities, families, and our economy.”

The rule is a core element of the Biden-Harris Administration’s all-of-government effort to build America’s clean energy future, strengthen energy security, shore up critical supply chains, and rebuild American infrastructure. Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, the time to complete the most extensive form of environmental review is already coming down: agencies are completing a higher proportion of environmental impact statements in under two years than under the previous Administration, and the average time to complete environmental assessments has also decreased.

The Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule also restores clarity to foundational elements of the environmental review process, consistent with President Biden’s commitments to follow science, support the needs and priorities of Tribal Nations, and advance environmental justice. Additionally, the rule helps ensure projects are on a strong legal footing by incorporating longstanding case law and best practices for collaboration and coordination across agencies.

Overall, the Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule will:

  • Accelerate the deployment of clean energy, transmission, clean water, high-speed internet, semiconductor manufacturing, and other crucial infrastructure: In addition to identifying a lead federal agency, setting clear one- and two-year environmental review deadlines and page limits, and incorporating procedures for agencies to adopt categorical exclusions established by other agencies as directed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the rule creates other new efficiencies that result in a more predictable and efficient permitting process and increased certainty for project sponsors. The rule accelerates these crucial projects by:
    • Establishing new and more flexible methods for agencies to establish categorical exclusions to speed up low-impact projects, from solar storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to transmission improvements and broadband deployment. This includes clarifying that agencies can jointly establish categorical exclusions.Expanding the use of programmatic environmental reviews, consistent with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, to help speed the construction of everything from semiconductor manufacturing to transmission and offshore wind. The rule also promotes the use of shared analysis to discourage duplication of effort.Enabling lower levels of environmental review—to accelerate approvals—when a project sponsor or agency has opted to mitigate the effects of the project.Clarifying that projects with long-lasting beneficial impacts, such as environmental restoration activities that do not have significant adverse effects, do not require environmental impact statements.
    • Ensuring evaluation of reasonable alternatives, which helps drive better decisions, including advancing projects with lower greenhouse gas emissions such as wind and solar.
  • Address climate change, protect public health, and encourage better environmental outcomes: The rule clarifies that agencies should consider the effects of climate change in environmental reviews and encourage identification of reasonable alternatives that will mitigate climate impacts. In addition, the rule helps promote better environmental outcomes:
    • Consistent with current best practices, the rule requires environmental impact statements to discuss relevant risk reduction, resiliency, or adaptation measures, as well as the potential for disproportionate adverse effects on the environment and public health.
    • Restores and updates the long-standing approach to evaluate the significance of a proposed action’s environmental effects, which was rolled back by the last Administration, to ensure agencies conduct the proper level of environmental review, and that reviews focus on the consequential effects of proposed actions.
    • Where feasible, requires environmental reviews to quantify the reasonably foreseeable greenhouse gas emissions of a proposed project to better understand its climate impacts.
    • Directs agencies to identify the environmentally preferable alternative(s) earlier in the review process, rather than waiting for the final decision.
  • Advance environmental justice and promote meaningful public input: The rule helps ensure projects are built smart from the start by promoting early and meaningful engagement with communities, fostering community buy-in, reducing or avoiding conflict, and improving project design. In addition, the rule:
    • Directs agencies—consistent with current best practices—to consider environmental justice in environmental reviews and to encourage measures to avoid or reduce disproportionate effects on communities, including the cumulative impacts of pollution. Requires agencies to consider the needs of affected communities when developing outreach and notification strategies so communities know about and can participate in decisions that affect them. Directs agencies to identify Chief Public Engagement Officers responsible for facilitating community engagement for environmental reviews.
    • Directs agencies to identify the environmentally preferable alternative(s) earlier in the review process, rather than waiting for the final decision.
  • Reverse provisions of the 2020 NEPA rule that were legally questionable: The rule removes provisions that created litigation risks and jeopardized community input. These include:
    • Removing detailed and onerous requirements on what public comments must contain to be considered by agencies.
    • Removing provisions that attempted to curtail judicial review.

CEQ conducted a robust review of more than 148,000 public comments on the proposed rule, of which approximately 920 were unique comments. CEQ also incorporated feedback from federal agencies. The Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule will apply to projects beginning environmental review on or after July 1, 2024. It will not disrupt ongoing environmental review processes.

The rule builds on additional steps CEQ has taken to restore longstanding environmental safeguards. In 2022, CEQ finalized a targeted rule that restored three basic elements of the NEPA regulations, including a reaffirmation that federal agencies must evaluate all relevant environmental effects—including those associated with climate change—during environmental reviews. In early 2023, CEQ also issued guidance to agencies on how to account for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews, so fewer projects get tangled up in litigation and more projects get built right the first time.

The Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule concludes “Phase 2” of CEQ’s NEPA rulemaking.  

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