EHS Management

Election 2012: Where Do the Candidates Stand on NEPA?

Where do the candidates’ stand on EHS issues?

Issue: National Environmental Policy Act

By Elizabeth Dickinson,
J.D. BLR Legal Editor

Barack Obama: Supports and wants to “modernize and reinvigorate” NEPA as it provides transparency and accountability in federal decisions on the environment.

The While House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) refers to NEPA as “a cornerstone of our Nation’s efforts to protect the environment and a fundamental tool to harmonize our economic and environmental aspirations.”

The CEQ proposed steps to update NEPA in February 2010.  In 2011, the CEQ invited members of the public and federal agencies to nominate projects employing innovative approaches to completing environmental reviews more efficiently and effectively. As of February 2012, five NEPA Pilots have been selected, ranging from creating Best Practice Principles for preparing Environmental Assessments to review processes for high-speed passenger rail service.  President Obama’s website says that his Administration’s efforts to “modernize and reinvigorate” NEPA will “help ensure transparency, public engagement and accountability in Federal decisions about actions that may affect the quality of the environment.”

Steps to modernize and Invigorate NEPA
Press Release: February 18, 2010
NEPA Homepage
Obama on Energy and the Environment

Mitt Romney: Would overhaul numerous environmental laws including, presumably, NEPA, as they are an impediment to economic growth.

The Romney “Energy Independence Policy” white paper (“White Paper”) sets forth the “Romney Agenda” on several energy topics. The White Paper notes that the Republican candidate seeks to “improve the environmental review process by setting clear deadlines and statutes of limitations, requiring better coordination between federal agencies, and allowing state reviews to satisfy federal requirements.”  While not mentioning the candidate’s specific views of NEPA, the White Paper cites an analysis prepared by SWCA Environmental Consultants of the economic impacts of all outstanding oil and natural gas projects proposed on federal lands in the West that were undergoing environmental analysis in accordance with NEPA as of January 1, 2012.  One of SWCA’s “key findings” was that:

“After a thorough review of projects undergoing environmental analysis in accordance with NEPA as of January 1, 2012, SWCA determined that 44,329 wells were proposed in twenty-two NEPA documents under development at that time….The majority of the wells, 30,789, are proposed in NEPA documents that have been underway for over two years. Many of these were begun over five years ago, delaying projects for years past the usual processing times….Federal government delays to these projects are preventing the creation of 64,805 jobs, $4.3 billion in wages, and $14.9 billion in economic impact every year.”

Mr. Romney’s citation of SWCA’s findings dovetails with his “Believe in America, Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth, Energy Policy” that calls for the overhaul of The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and “other environmental laws” that “require every significant scientific innovation or technological breakthrough to trigger prolonged regulatory scrutiny and years of spurious litigation are an excellent means of imposing self-inflicted wounds on our economy.”
The Republican platform calls for “reining in EPA” because “since 2009, the EPA has moved forward with expansive regulations that will impose tens of billions of dollars in new costs on American businesses and consumers….creating regulatory uncertainty, preventing new projects from going forward, discouraging new investment, and stifling job creation.”:

Romney’s Energy Independence Policy Paper
Believe in America
2012 Republican Platform on Energy and Conservation

The Facts: NEPA
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1970,  requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes through environmental impact assessment. Generally, NEPA requirements are triggered whenever a federal permit, federal monies, or a federal agency is involved in a project. The determination for further compliance with NEPA requirements is dependent on the presence of sensitive environments, conditions, or habitats evaluated through an initial environmental assessment (EA). This approach requires federal officials to consider environmental values alongside the technical and economic considerations that are inherent factors in federal decision making, and calls for the evaluation of reasonable alternatives to a proposed federal action and the solicitation of input from organizations and individuals that could potentially be affected. If an EA determines that significant environmental impacts will potentially result from the proposed project, a detailed statement known as an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be completed to further identify the presence of sensitive environments, conditions, and environmental impacts.


Elizabeth M. Dickinson, J.D., is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental publications, focusing primarily on hazardous waste related topics. Ms Dickinson has covered environmental developments since 1994. Before starting her career in publishing, she was a corporate and securities attorney at Cummings & Lockwood and at Aetna Life and Casualty, both in Hartford, Connecticut.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Connecticut School of Law, where she was an Articles Editor of the Connecticut Law Review.  Ms. Dickinson is licensed to practice law in Connecticut.