PLC Celebrates Major Victory with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

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Last week, PLC celebrated a major victory with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a proposed rule by the Trump administration, which might lessen the load of what has become a lengthy and costly approval process to run livestock on public lands. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to modernize the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations. 

Ranchers seeking to renew their grazing permits on federal lands or make improvements on their allotments have long been hindered by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law in 1970. The law requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. The range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes: permit applications, federal land management actions, and construction of public infrastructure.

Unfortunately, NEPA is used against federal agencies to bog down routine processes, and challenge science-based decisions. Environmental groups often use litigation to gain stakeholder status. As a result, processes are postponed or extended up to four years beyond their original schedule and in some cases derailed all together.

Ranchers are unable to plan years in advance due to the uncertainty of the NEPA process, making long-term planning challenging. This can range from grazing permit renewals to new fences. According to a 2018 report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, it takes an average of 4.5 years for the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service to complete an Environmental Impact Statement.

The publication of the NOPR opened a 60-day public comment period, which closes on March 10th, and it is highly unlikely that the comment period will be extended. 

Montana Public Lands Council will be compiling detailed, technical comments in the coming weeks. Once that is done, we will circulate to affiliates who wish to submit their own comments. Below is a list of highlights from the proposed rule, including a list of topics to address in any comments you decide to submit.  

Topics Requiring Comment Response

  • Any litigation vulnerabilities presented by the Proposed Rule
  • Potential page limitations for both EIS and EA
  • Inclusion of CEQ Draft Guidance on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions as a NEPA threshold in the Proposed Rule
  • Proposed definition of “effects”
  • Proposed revisions to judicial review provisions