NEPA Regs Are Getting a Haircut

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The administration is proposing to update its regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has not comprehensively changed the rules since they were established in 1978 (although the FCC has updated portions of its implementation for licensees.) 

The action has implications for towercos and those who work for them. Under the FCC’s Environmental Rules, applicants and licensees are required to assess whether proposed facilities may significantly affect the environment, as defined in section 1.1307 of the Commission rules. 

“As part of the assessment, a licensee or applicant must consider several factors, including, but not limited to, whether the site of the proposed tower will be located in an officially designated wilderness area or wildlife preserve, or whether the proposed site may affect listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitats,” states the agency. “Pursuant to section 1.1312, this obligation expressly applies to facilities for which no Commission authorization prior to construction is required, unless they meet an exemption.”

The CEQ says the update would modernize and clarify the regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies. The proposed amendments would simplify regulatory requirements, revise the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, and eliminate obsolete provisions. CEQ’s proposed revisions also are intended to provide greater clarity for federal agencies, states, tribes, localities, and the public.

The revised regulations would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments, reducing the current four- to five-year NEPA waiting time for approvals, according to law firm Womble Bond Dickinson.

In addition, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking modifies the threshold consideration of whether NEPA applies to a particular action and, “federal agencies would only need to consider environmental effects that are reasonably foreseeable and have a close causal relationship to the project.”

CEQ plans to hold public hearings on the proposal at the Environmental Protection Agency on February 11, in Denver, Colorado and at the Department of the Interior on February 25, in Washington D.C. Comments are due to CEQ (Docket No. CEQ-2019-0003) by March 10, via email to the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

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