NEPA amendments criticized by NCBA

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2024 — The National Environmental Policy Act was enacted by Congress in 1969 and signed by then-President Richard Nixon in 1970. According to the Council on Environmental Quality, NEPA seeks to "encourage productive and enjoyable harmony" between humans and the environment, recognizing the "profound impact" of human activity and the "critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality" to the overall welfare of humankind; to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of people, making it the continuing policy of the federal government to use all practicable means and measures to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans; and also recognizes that each person should have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy environment and has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.

To this end, federal agencies are required to prepare environmental impact statements or EISs for "every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" and, in doing so, provide opportunities for public participation to help inform agency decision making.


Following the passage of President Biden's Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, portions of NEPA were amended. EISs must now include discussion of reasonably foreseeable environmental effects of the proposed action, reasonably foreseeable adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided, and a reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed action.

NCBA, Public Lands Council and the American Sheep Industry Association submitted comments in November, 2022, objecting to the proposed rule. The groups said NEPA has evolved into "both the most impactful federal environmental process to the ranching industry and the most effective weapon in the arsenal of those who wish to exploit the process for nefarious means. Through relentless, process-based litigation across the range, these groups have driven the transformation of NEPA from its original purpose — analysis of potential impacts stemming from a major federal action — into a black hole of endless and often fear-driven processes initiated by federal agencies in the hope that such analysis might prevent legal challenge to otherwise proper and appropriate science-based decision-making."

The groups challenged the amendments, saying that NEPA had become a "time-intensive, exorbitantly-expensive endeavor that resulted in projects postponed or extended years beyond their original schedule, or in some cases derailed altogether. This is true even for routine assessments of projects with clear positive outcomes, including grazing permit renewals, range improvements, wildlife habitat restoration, fuels reduction treatments, and cooperative projects to improve ecosystem services." These are, the groups said, counter to the multiple-use mission of agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service and serves as a deterrent to responsible land management decision making.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council reacted to the White House Council on Environmental Quality's final Phase 2 rule amending the National Environmental Policy Act which will make the process even more burdensome for livestock producers.

"In a time when the Biden Administration should be focusing on reducing regulatory burden on themselves and their partners, this new NEPA framework does the opposite. The Biden Administration largely ignored the requirements Congress passed in the Fiscal Responsibility Act that would streamline NEPA processes. Instead, this final rule changes the focus of NEPA, making it more ambiguous, less targeted, and nearly impossible to navigate," said Kaitlynn Glover, NCBA executive director of natural resources and PLC executive director. "This rule will make federal permitting, including for grazing permits, so much more difficult and expensive, and gives radical activists groups further license to weaponize NEPA against ranchers and rural communities."

Source: Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post Magazine and Western Ag Network