Ag Groups Decry Biden Changes to NEPA

Ag Groups Concerned National Environmental Policy Act Changes Will Return to Extended Environmental Reviews

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The Biden administration on Tuesday finalized changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, reversing course on reforms made by the Trump administration largely supported by farmers and ranchers. (DTN photo by ShayLe Stewart)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The Biden administration finalized a rule on Tuesday to reverse Trump administration reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act that shortened the time for seeking approval of infrastructure and other projects.

The Trump administration NEPA reforms, finalized in July 2020, streamlined what was a drawn-out process for farmers and ranchers who seek renewal of term grazing permits, who want to conduct range improvements and want to be involved in USDA programs.

In a news release announcing the actions, the White House on Tuesday touted the finalized phase-one NEPA changes as a restoration of "key community safeguards" for environmental reviews. The White House said phase-two changes to NEPA are expected to be proposed in the coming months and are expected to require agencies to consider climate change effects during reviews.

"This rule will not delay any projects or reviews underway and will not add time to the NEPA process," the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) said in a news release.

The final rule returns to a NEPA requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the environmental effects of the decisions they make, among other changes.

The Trump administration rule shortened to two years the time for seeking approval of infrastructure and other projects under NEPA. Prior to the change, NEPA had an average wait time for approval of four to five years.

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

AG GROUPS RESPONSE

The NEPA change was met with frustration by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council.

The groups said in a joint news statement the Biden administration's action "undermines progress" made during the past several years.

"When it comes to federal regulations, ranchers are often caught in the middle of political whiplash, and this CEQ process is no exception," said NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover.

"Livestock producers and land managers need regulatory certainty and consistency. By returning to a pre-2020 standard, this rule returns environmental analysis to a failed model that industry and government have long agreed is woefully inadequate and inefficient. This failed model will stall important environmental projects, delay critical infrastructure improvements, and impede progress made as part of ongoing NEPA processes."

The groups said NEPA plays a significant role in water, transportation and conservation projects across the country.

"Over the past several decades, NEPA processes have become inefficient and the source of an immense amount of regulatory red tape and uncertainty as producers renew grazing permits, improve rangeland, and participate in USDA voluntary conservation programs," the groups said.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said he was "disappointed" the Biden administration decided to "reverse commonsense reforms" to NEPA.

"Continued challenges from the pandemic, supply chain issues and the drought in the West are impacting farmers, ranchers and the American public in the form of increased food and fuel prices," Duvall said in a statement.

"The situation will now be made worse by the return to a slow and cumbersome NEPA review process that, in many cases, takes years to complete. President (Joe) Biden has also made improving the nation's infrastructure a priority and a modernized NEPA review process would help deliver projects to communities across the country."

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., House Agriculture Committee Republican leader, said the changes to NEPA come at a time of uncertainty in agriculture.

"In 2020, the prior administration thoughtfully revised the NEPA process to streamline its requirements and prevent activist litigation from forcing commonsense projects into regulatory purgatory," he said.

"Today's action dismantles that much-needed clarity and further constrains responsible development of minerals and other crop nutrients that are vital to America's ability to meet the food and fiber needs of the globe, especially at a time of great uncertainty."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers also criticized the new rule. The Chamber stated the rule would "make it harder to lower gas prices, invest in clean energy, and build modern infrastructure."

NEPA REFORMS SUPPORT

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., co-founder of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, said the NEPA changes were needed at a time when the Biden administration is working to improve aging infrastructure across the country.

"Today's announcement from the Biden administration is an important development that will help restore the integrity of NEPA in a fair and balanced way, while increasing efficiencies across agencies and protecting our communities that have been ignored for too long," she said in a statement.

"As the bipartisan infrastructure law and my Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act continue making transformative investments to rebuild our roads and bridges, clean up our water and create good-paying local jobs across the country, we must make sure that voices from communities most at risk are involved in the decision-making process."

Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the NEPA changes will help communities and tribes to "understand projects" that could "define their neighborhoods" for years to come.

"Importantly, these new rules ensure that federal agencies should consider how their decisions affect our climate, reversing the Trump administration efforts to keep the federal government's head buried in the sand," Green said in a statement.

Read more on DTN:

"Ag Groups Praise NEPA Change," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Proposed NEPA Change Lauded by Ranchers," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley