New NEPA Rule fails to meet Congress’ intent to streamline permitting

A final rule from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) intended to implement permitting reforms mandated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 will fail to create a more efficient, predictable, and straightforward federal review process as intended by Congress. The final rule released on Tuesday will increase the complexity of analysis that federal agencies will need to perform for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting, delay federal decision making, and result in more legal fights over infrastructure approvals. This could jeopardize American energy and national security while continuing the cycle of regulatory whiplash between Administrations that undermines public confidence and investment in long-term energy projects.

“Although we are still reviewing the specifics of CEQ’s final NEPA rule released this morning, we are disappointed that the final rule appears to have missed an opportunity to achieve meaningful permitting reform. Despite the clear message from a bipartisan majority in Congress to streamline and modernize the permitting process, the Administration has opted to finalize a rule that will introduce new, subjective permitting requirements, increase litigation, and delay the NEPA review process,” said American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert. “Congress took decisive action to address a permitting process that is too complicated and takes too long. Unfortunately, this final rule will do little to make the NEPA process more efficient.”

Delays in permitting critical energy projects compromise the supply of affordable, reliable energy that U.S. and global consumers rely on every day, as well as the deployment of innovative lower-carbon solutions to the climate change challenge, including carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen.  CEQ’s failure to address growing delays in the NEPA process, as intended under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, will compromise not only U.S. energy security but also European energy security at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made U.S. natural gas essential to meeting the needs of our European and Asian allies. A robust natural gas industry enables the U.S. to export our LNG overseas, reducing our allies’ reliance on countries with less-stringent environmental regulations and ultimately helping them advance emissions reductions needed to meet international climate goals.

The American Gas Association submitted substantial comments on the proposed rulemaking in September and cosigned additional comments alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 27 other trade groups. Read AGA’s full comments here.