The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) does not need to conduct full environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when granting an offshore wind farm lease, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed. The decision followed a lawsuit by commercial fishing organizations and seaside municipalities who claimed that BOEM violated NEPA and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) when it auctioned an offshore lease to Equinor (formerly Statoil) without performing an environmental review of the anticipated windfarm project. The decision puts to rest the question of whether a mere lease sale may trigger extensive environmental review under NEPA, potentially streamlining the initial lease acquisition process, but also requiring the investment of significant funds before developers have cleared environmental review.
On September 16, 2020, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee held a hearing to consider the nominations of Mark Christie and Allison Clements to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin focused their preliminary comments on the importance of ensuring that FERC has a full complement of five Commissioners and expressed interest in acting quickly to move through the confirmation process. However, there was no indication of the specific timing of the Senate ENR and floor votes that would be required to confirm the nominees. Several Senators praised both Christie and Clements, and no Senator expressed opposition to the nominees, though Clements received a few pointed questions from Senators Gardner and Lee about her time at the Natural Resources Defense Council.Read More
President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on March 28, 2017, entitled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” (“Order”), which is designed to prompt reconsideration, and in some cases revocation, of the Obama Administration’s actions to address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The Order directs several federal agencies to review, and possibly withdraw, specific policy initiatives like the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Clean Power Plan rulemaking and the U.S. Department of the Interior (“Interior”) 2015 and 2016 rules on oil and gas production on federal lands. In addition, the Order directs the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) to rescind its 2016 final guidance document regarding the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts in environmental reviews performed under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). More broadly, the Order also directs all federal agencies to review “all agency actions” that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”
As discussed in greater detail below, the Order may have far-reaching implications for U.S. policy on energy production, greenhouse gas regulation, and climate change that could have spillover impacts for energy infrastructure development. A vigorous debate is certain to follow with interested stakeholders evaluating strategic options including notice and comment rulemaking, litigation, and legislative advocacy.
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On August 2, 2016, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a final version of its guidance to federal agencies requiring the consideration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and effects on climate change when evaluating potential impacts of a federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CEQ explains that it does not expect the Final Guidance to be applied to federal actions for which a NEPA review has been concluded or actions for which a final environmental impact statement or environmental assessment has been issued. As discussed in greater detail below, although the Final Guidance is not legally binding on federal agencies, various aspects of the document have the potential to delay permitting timelines as agencies determine whether and how to incorporate the Final Guidance into their reviews and very likely will add to the level of review that agencies undertake.
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Expedited permitting and environmental review for complex infrastructure projects may soon be a reality. Buried at the end of its most recent transportation reauthorization package (the “FAST Act” or “Act”) is a significant new initiative intended to fundamentally change the way that federal agencies evaluate environmental impacts from, and issue permits for, construction of large infrastructure projects. 
National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) review and environmental permitting for complex infrastructure projects can be costly and protracted. For instance, a U.S. Government Accountability Office Report stated that the average completion time for an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) in 2012 was 4.6 years.  Between 2003 and 2012, the Department of Energy paid contractors an average fee of $6.6 million, and as much as $85 million, to prepare EISs.  The cost to prepare an EIS is often borne by project sponsors. Some transportation and water resources projects currently benefit from expedited permitting and environmental review procedures,  but the FAST Act is the first time that Congress has attempted to coordinate NEPA review across federal agencies and industry sectors.
If there wasn’t enough uncertainty about the process and standards for obtaining a programmatic eagle take permit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just made it more difficult. Since 2009, energy developers and operators – from oil & gas to wind & solar – have been able to apply for a permit for the incidental take of eagles. That permit program, which has evolved over the past several years through regulatory revisions and agency guidance, may be poised to change in dramatic fashion.
On June 19, 2014, the American Bird Conservancy and other individual plaintiffs (the “ABC Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”). The ABC Plaintiffs are challenging the USFWS’ revision to its eagle take rule. Specifically, the ABC Plaintiffs are challenging the agency’s determination to extend the maximum term for an incidental eagle take permit (“ETP”) to 30 years on two ground: first, USFWS revised the eagle take rule without analyzing environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”); and second, the rule violates the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“BGEPA”) by subverting basic eagle protections and safeguards without adequate explanation. Read More