Forest Service to revise NEPA procedures

The Forest Service is proposing to revise its NEPA procedures (including its regulations at 36 CFR part 220, Forest Service Manual 1950, and Forest Service Handbook 1909.15) with the goal of increasing efficiency of environmental analysis. The Forest Service’s NEPA procedures were last reviewed in 2008 when the Agency moved a subset of its NEPA procedures from the Forest Service Manual and Handbook to the Code of Federal Regulations. However, the Agency’s NEPA procedures still reflect in part the policies and practices established by the Agency’s 1992 NEPA Manual and Handbook.

The Agency is seeking public comment on the following:

  • Processes and analysis requirements that can be modified, reduced, or eliminated in order to reduce time and cost while maintaining science-based, high-quality analysis; public involvement; and honoring agency stewardship responsibilities.
  • Approaches to landscape-scale analysis and decision making under NEPA that facilitate restoration of National Forest System lands.
  • Classes of actions that are unlikely, either individually or cumulatively, to have significant impacts and therefore should be categorically excluded from NEPA’s environmental assessment and environmental impact statement requirements, such as integrated restoration projects; special use authorizations; and activities to maintain and manage Agency sites (including recreation sites), facilities, and associated infrastructure.
  • Ways the Agency might expand and enhance coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions with other Federal agencies, as well as State, Tribal, or local environmental reviews.

Bigger projects, more categorical exclusions, shorter timelines, but “The Agency will continue to hold true to its commitment to deliver scientifically based, high-quality analysis to decision makers that honors its environmental stewardship responsibilities while maintaining robust public participation.”

9 Comments

  1. Changing and tweaking the NEPA regs is part of the court/executive branch/legislative branch balancing of powers.. it’s not easy to get them changed, but people who work with something and people who deal with government processes deserve to take a look and see what works and what doesn’t.

  2. I think there is value in having all agencies follow a consistent set of NEPA rules, like those at 40 CFR §§ 1500 et seq. The FS establishing and amending their own NEPA rules, like those at 36 CFR § 220, leads to balkanization and confusion among the public that wants to learn and rely on one set of rules, not a plethora.

    • The analysis applicable to construction of a nuclear reactor or military facility is wholly unlike the analysis necessary for a timber sale, species reintroduction, restoration project, etc. The cost/benefit analyses in particular are entirely different balls of wax. Uniformity across government would certainly be elegant but diverse agencies need to be able to promulgate tailored NEPA regulations.

    • CEQ doesn’t seem to think that way at least when I was working.

      I used to sit on the interagency NEPA that worked with CEQ. When the agencies got together and said “hey can we change the NEPA regs?” they would say “no, they are fine, if you want changes you have to do it agency by agency.”

      One time the FS looked at adopting some CE’s used by the Park Service. CEQ’s argument was that each agency has its own mission and context so we couldn’t do that.

      It seems to me that an easy start on this would be to harmonize NEPA, Appeals and FOIA regs for
      the BLM and FS, who do many joint projects.

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