A planned update of National Environmental Policy Act regulations will lead to substantial, costly delays of projects necessary for electric reliability and should be withdrawn and reworked, NRECA told the Biden administration.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s proposed rule would prolong required NEPA reviews of critical infrastructure projects, increase litigation risk and jeopardize affordable, reliable and safe electricity, NRECA said in comments filed to the CEQ on Sept. 29.

Electric co-ops are often subject to the NEPA process for new projects that require federal permits, right-of-way authorizations and building and maintaining electric and broadband infrastructure. Many electric co-ops also receive federal loans and grants that trigger NEPA reviews.

“NRECA and our member co-ops support the fundamental goals of NEPA to appropriately consider the potential environmental impacts of their actions; however, over the past four decades, the NEPA process has expanded, increased costs and delayed critical infrastructure projects,” said Viktoria Seale, NRECA regulatory affairs director.

“Costly project delays directly affect electric co-ops, which serve 92% of the country’s persistent poverty counties, and their ability to provide affordable, reliable and safe electricity to their communities.”

NRECA is not alone in its concerns about the proposed changes to the NEPA process.

“There is broad bipartisan agreement that the federal environmental review and permitting processes must be significantly accelerated to support the modernization of our nation’s electric infrastructure and to facilitate economic development,” Seale said.

Multiple administrations and Congresses have long recognized and undertaken executive and legislative efforts to improve and speed up the NEPA process. Significant amendments to the NEPA statute were enacted in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 to improve the federal environmental review process for all types of projects. But this latest CEQ proposal is not fully consistent with the bipartisan desire to focus and accelerate NEPA reviews.

“Efficient and predictable processes are necessary to ensure the funding opportunities provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act to upgrade our infrastructure and enhance grid reliability are not squandered,” Seale said.

The council is expected to finalize revisions to its NEPA implementing regulations in 2024, after which federal agencies will have 12 months to revise their NEPA procedures accordingly. The last significant update to the CEQ NEPA regulations occurred in 2020.