August 20, 2018

Edward A. Boling 
Associate Director for the National Environmental Policy Act 
Council on Environmental Quality 
730 Jackson Place NW 
Washington, DC 20503

Via regulations.gov

Re: CEQ request for revisions to NEPA Process, Docket # CEQ-2018-0001

Dear Mr. Boling:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on potential revisions to update and clarify the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.

RDC is an Alaskan business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native Corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC appreciates the CEQ’s efforts to streamline the NEPA review process, reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, and clarify longstanding CEQ regulations. Further, as stated by the CEQ, it has issued numerous guidance documents but has amended its regulations substantively only once.

The proposed rule sets forth process and content requirements to guide the development, amendment, and revision of NEPA. RDC members view this as an excellent opportunity to fix the broken or often-misused NEPA process, using a federally streamlined, science-based process. 

Environmental lawsuits continue to threaten the responsible development of Alaska’s natural resources. At the forefront of these lawsuits are cases challenging the NEPA process, often times brought against the process itself and not always the project.

The costs of completing the NEPA process along with the prevalence of environmental lawsuits are often prohibitive for the nation’s countless small businesses and landowners, especially in Alaska. Few federal laws have more impact on resource development in Alaska than the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

RDC’s comments respond to CEQ’s specific questions in the ANPRM and offer additional views on what many in the regulated community have experienced in dealing with the confusing, time-consuming, and uncertain NEPA process.

    1. Should CEQ's NEPA regulations be revised to ensure that environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple agencies are conducted in a manner that is concurrent, synchronized, timely, and efficient, and if so, how? 

Yes. NEPA should be amended to make clear that an EIS will be focused on a limited number of issues identified in the scoping process. Further, NEPA should be amended to have a presumptive page limit with a process that would give the lead agency the ability to a make a determination that only a pre-determined number of pages can be used. This will help increase efficiency. 

    2. Should CEQ's NEPA regulations be revised to make the NEPA process more efficient by better facilitating agency use of environmental studies, analysis, and decisions conducted in earlier Federal, State, tribal or local environmental reviews or authorization decisions, and if so, how? 

Yes. Regulations should require agencies to use existing data when available to the greatest extent possible. 

   3. Should CEQ's NEPA regulations be revised to ensure optimal interagency coordination of environmental reviews and authorization decisions, and if so, how?

Yes. Requirements to enforce timelines and time limits to the existing process should be implemented. NEPA should be amended to have a presumptive timeframe to complete the EIS with a process that would give the lead agency the ability to make a determination to extend the time frame by a set number of months if (and only if) necessary to address the specified issues. 

   4. Should the provisions in CEQ's NEPA regulations that relate to the format and page length of NEPA documents and time limits for completion be revised, and if so, how? 

Yes.  See previous responses.

   5. Should CEQ's NEPA regulations be revised to provide greater clarity to ensure NEPA documents better focus on significant issues that are relevant and useful to decision makers and the public, and if so, how?

Yes. CEQ’s existing regulations should be reaffirmed and clarified. 

   6. Should the provisions in CEQ's NEPA regulations relating to public involvement be revised to be more inclusive and efficient, and if so, how?

Yes. In addition to responses to questions 1 and 2, CEQ should consider limited administrative appeals to agency decisions. 

   10. Should the provisions in CEQ's NEPA regulations relating to the timing of agency action be revised, and if so, how?

Yes.In addition to the response to question 3, the CEQ should consider deadlines that do not exceed existing ranges. 

   11. Should the provisions in CEQ's NEPA regulations relating to agency responsibility and the preparation of NEPA documents by contractors and project applicants be revised, and if so, how?

Yes. CEQ should explore the use of third parties to reduce the backlog of NEPA documents as consistent with other government agencies. 

   12. Should the provisions in CEQ's NEPA regulations relating to programmatic NEPA documents and tiering be revised, and if so, how?

Yes. The provisions should be revised to create efficiency and improve the process.

   16. Are there additional ways CEQ's NEPA regulations should be revised to promote coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions, such as combining NEPA analysis and other decision documents, and if so, how?

Yes. The CEQ should promote coordination by indicating agencies should communicate to identify appropriate ways to evaluate proposals. 

   17. Are there additional ways CEQ's NEPA regulations should be revised to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the implementation of NEPA, and if so, how?

Yes. Existing reviews, analyses, and other documents should be used to the fullest extent possible. 

   19. Are there additional ways CEQ's NEPA regulations should be revised to ensure that agencies apply NEPA in a manner that reduces unnecessary burdens and delays as much as possible, and if so, how?

Yes. The CEQ should work with other agencies to reduce delays in processes that may not involve the NEPA process. 

   20. Are there additional ways CEQ's NEPA regulations related to mitigation should be revised, and if so, how?

Yes. CEQ should clarify that NEPA does not require mitigation, and agencies should be directed not to use the NEPA process to influence or promote mitigation. Instead, mitigation should be considered an option. 

Thank you the opportunity to comment on potential revisions to update and clarify the NEPA process. We look forward to working with the CEQ to improve the efficiency of the NEPA process.

Sincerely,

Resource Development Council