I have been sucked into the “let’s comment on the CEQ NEPA regs” vortex. I’m of two minds about the page limit idea, so I thought I’d open it up for discussion.
Viewpoint 1. NEPA docs are long to bullet-proof them for litigation. Sure, there are cultural agency/NEPA team differences. Perhaps there are cultural reasons to overwrite (associated with importance of your professional area) but no one wants them to be long and impenetrable, or to spend more funding or time than necessary. Therefore, a page limit is pointless. CEQ’s story is that “if only agencies would be more focused and not blather on” but agency NEPA people continue to see things differently. After observing this for the last fifteen years or so, I think that they are continuing to talk past each other.
Viewpoint 2.If agencies really held to the page limits, then possibly projects would go to court sooner and work would be transferred from NEPA folks to OGC, DOJ, plaintiffs and the courts. Then we could have court-based iterative NEPA. It would either dragging on interminably (as in the North Fork Coal litigation, the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce of federal lands) or possibly, might goes to court, judge says to add a, b and c, agency adds a, b, and c, and everyone goes home. Pretty much it would depend on the pocketbooks and tenacity of the plaintiffs, which it pretty much does now, but there would be no expectation of “perfect” at the first go-round in court for anyone involved.
I’d call this the focused court-based NEPA strategy. Strategically, this might move the extra work to the courts-creating pressure among those with more power (judges and attorneys vs. NEPA practitioners) to find a different approach.
Of course, my realistic viewpoint is that agencies would ignore or make lots of exceptions for page limits, even if the proposed NEPA regulation isn’t thrown out in court or settled behind closed doors. Nevertheless, I know TSW readers come from a variety of experiences and perspectives and would appreciate what you all might add to this discussion.
If you have any specific comments on the rest of the reg, that would also be potentially helpful. Also, I’m requesting photos of piles of FS environmental documents for future use.