Proposed NEPA Changes Lauded by Rancher

Trump Proposal Said to Speed up Approval on Grazing Permits, Other Areas

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The Trump administration has proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that could help ranchers. (DTN photo by ShayLe Stewart)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled a proposal to streamline the process of a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which has created a drawn-out process for farmers and ranchers who seek renewal of term grazing permits, who want to conduct range improvements and who want to be involved in USDA programs.

The U.S. Department of Interior is set to publish a proposed rule to shorten the time for seeking approval of infrastructure and other projects under the auspices of NEPA.

In particular, the Trump administration would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.

The current NEPA has an average wait times for approval of four to five years.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Public Lands Council and the Family Farm Alliance expressed support for the proposal, subject to a 60-day public comment period once it posts to the Federal Register in about one week.

"Over time, NEPA has evolved into a complex web of onerous processes and bureaucratic red tape," fifth-generation Oregon rancher and Public Lands Council President Bob Skinner said in a statement.

"These sensible updates proposed by the Council on Environmental Quality are welcome news to ranching families whose businesses have been impacted by the overwhelming and growing costs of NEPA compliance."

Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the proposal would offer "commonsense regulatory relief" and urged cattle producers to "get their voice on the record by submitting comments in favor of this rulemaking."

During an NCBA podcast following the Trump administration's announcement, Nevada rancher J.J. Goicoechea said the current NEPA process has harmed producers wanting to improve water resources in dry regions of the country.

"If there's a drought in Nevada, ranchers need to haul water or develop water sources for wildlife," he said, "they are often held up with NEPA -- some are held up three to five years. If it's an emergency situation and you don't have a drought environmental assessment that was done in that grazing district, you might not be able to haul water to your livestock and you'll be forced to bring them home."

NEPA was created in 1970 to require federal agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of federal actions.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said during a press call on Thursday the current situation has created some tough scenarios for landowners.

"When I arrived at the Department of the Interior in 2017, it took, on average, five years to complete environmental reviews for our projects within BLM (Bureau of Land Management)," he said. "And we have some that are out to 15 and 16 years. And these documents were often hundreds and even thousands of pages long.

"A rancher's ability to know whether they will be able to graze their livestock on public lands depends on the timing of our environmental reviews. A farmer's ability to know that they have a secure water supply for their crops is based on how long it takes for us to do our environmental reviews."

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, said in a press statement the group was reviewing the proposal "with an eye towards seeing how it corrects and re-balances the significant negative impacts to our Western farmers that have resulted from past federal implementation of NEPA and other environmental laws."

Even before the actual proposal was released environmental groups expressed opposition to the changes. Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. said the proposal would "punch loopholes" into environmental protections under NEPA.

"The Trump administration has a legal and moral duty to protect all Americans, especially our children, from climate pollution and industrial environmental threats," she said in a statement. "This unlawful and dangerous action takes our country in the wrong direction."

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release days before the release of the proposal that changes would allow federal agencies to ignore whether a project's greenhouse gas emissions would worsen climate change.

In addition, the group said the proposal would eliminate consideration of the cumulative effects of damage to public lands and wildlife from fossil fuel extraction.

"It's shameful that the Trump administration is ripping apart America's cornerstone environmental law on its 50th anniversary," Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

"Trump's gift to the fossil fuel industry and special interests will silence ordinary Americans while giving polluters a free pass to trash the environment, destroy public lands and kill wildlife."

During a press briefing on Thursday, however, Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Mary Neumayr said the proposed rule would "not exclude consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in NEPA analyses."

Read the NEPA proposal here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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Todd Neeley