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NEPA Regulations Updates

Listen to HNTB's Adin McCann and Chris Van Wyk share their perspective.

On July 16, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued updates to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that are intended to facilitate more efficient, effective and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies. The updates are the first major changes to the NEPA regulations since their creation in 1978. Among the wide-ranging revisions, there are four key fundamental changes:

Time and page limits. Assigns presumptive time and page limits to:

- Environmental Assessments: 1 year and 75 pages

- Environmental Impact Statements: 2 years and 150-300 pages According to the CEQ, one-page equals 500 words, excluding graphics. Waivers and extensions are available; however, the new regulations do not appear to reduce the amount of fundamental technical work required in the process.

Categorical Exclusion Flexibilities

Allows any federal agency to use a Categorical Exclusion (CE) listed in another federal agency’s NEPA procedures. For example, a transportation agency might be able to use a CE action listed in the NEPA procedures of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Energy, or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Transportation agencies–such as FTA, FRA, and FAA—that construct, operate, and maintain facilities might find this provision particularly useful.

Virtual Hearings

Permits virtual public hearings or public meetings. However, any statutory requirements for in-person meetings would supersede this new regulation.

Analysis and Documentation Requirements

The Final Rule includes provisions that could both narrow and broaden the scope of the NEPA analysis. For example, the revised regulations could potentially narrow the range of alternatives analyzed and the scope of the cumulative effects assessment. On the other hand, they could broaden the scope of what must be considered by requiring a stand-alone chapter on “all alternatives, information and analyses” submitted by interested parties, as well as requiring quantification and disclosure of costs associated with the NEPA process.

The revised regulations are intended to apply to actions initiated after September 14, 2020; however, multiple factors that could affect the implementation timeline.

For questions contact:

Adin McCann ( – Great Lakes Environmental Planning Practice Sector Leader

Chris Van Wyk ( – Senior Environmental Planning Manager