SHERIDAN — Several organizations in the energy sector and public officials have praised the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act since the president’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a notice of proposed rule-making Jan. 9.
NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of projects and actions including highway construction, water infrastructure, renewable energy, land, forest and fishery management, authorization for mining, grazing, restoration projects and public land activities, according to the CEQ.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said she supports Trump’s decision to “overhaul burdensome NEPA requirements, which for too long have thwarted energy development and critical infrastructure projects in Wyoming.”
Gov. Mark Gordon issued a statement supporting Trump’s efforts, stating the NEPA process should “inform and improve proposed actions by facilitating a better understanding of the potential impacts of those actions” rather than obstructing development.
However, some Wyoming organizations disagree that the changes would be beneficial. Jill Morrison, executive director of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said NEPA is critical to appropriately analyzing proposed developments and requires disclosure to the public, allowing for better decision-making and reduced environmental impact through mitigation.
“The proposal to gut NEPA would take us backwards and result in worse impacts or the failure to mitigate impacts on our water, air, land and wildlife,” Morrison said in an email to The Sheridan Press.
Morrison cited examples of projects that benefited from specific reclamation standards including replacing water wells that were impacted by drilling and development.
Public Affairs Officer Sara Evans Kirol with the Bighorn National Forest said so far it’s just a proposal, but BNF employees are preparing to follow through on changes if they are solidified — like all Forest Service offices in the U.S. The intention behind the proposal is to streamline the NEPA process, according to the USFS.
According to the CEQ, NEPA is too complex and time consuming for federal agencies, project applicants and permit-seekers. The average time period for a NEPA review is four and a half years, according to the CEQ.
About 7% of federal highway projects take fewer than two years for review, 15% take two to four years, 18% take four to six years and the remaining 60% take more than six years.
Fact sheets and press releases often refer to the proposed changes as a way to “modernize” the policy, which dates back to the 1970s, and accelerate infrastructure project timelines. Public comment on the proposed changes remains open until March 10.
“NEPA analyses are frequently challenged in the courts, and while federal agencies ultimately prevail in many cases, litigation can unnecessarily delay and increase costs for important projects…that benefit States, Tribes and local communities,” according to a CEQ fact sheet on proposed changes.
Khale Century Reno, executive director with the Wyoming Wilderness Association, said public land users value the ability to contribute to land management decisions and the proposed changes would “undermine NEPA’s core principles of transparency and informed agency decision-making,” Century Reno said.
“We understand the need to streamline the process, but since NEPA is our only law that requires the government to consider environmental impacts and gives the public a chance to weigh in on these decisions, we are definitely concerned about this overhaul, especially with regard to project analysis disregarding indirect and cumulative actions, transparency, and ultimately placing the burden on the public to list any and all environmental impacts of a proposed project,” Century Reno said in an email to The Sheridan Press.
WWA, alongside other nonprofits, has 60 days to prepare their full comments after doing “due diligence” to gather their thoughts and develop a detailed position, Century Reno said.