The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced today a review of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures for the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the bureau in DOI that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The review will examine the MMS NEPA procedures for OCS oil and gas exploration and development.
"Every agency in the executive branch of the Federal Government has a responsibility to implement NEPA. NEPA assigns CEQ the task of ensuring that Federal agencies meet their obligations under the Act," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "The Obama Administration has already taken steps to modernize NEPA and increase oversight by issuing guidance to do just that in February, 2010."
"We remain focused on providing every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway at the Deepwater Horizon, but we are also aggressively and quickly investigating what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident in the future," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "A review of the overall NEPA procedures for the MMS is an important part of the ongoing comprehensive and thorough investigation of this incident, but it also continues the reform effort that we have been undertaking at MMS and throughout Interior."
In enacting NEPA, Congress recognized that many Federal activities affect the environment in some way and mandated that before Federal agencies make certain decisions, they must consider the effects of their actions on the quality of the human environment. NEPA requires all Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental effects of their proposed major actions and to engage the public before the agencies decide whether and how they will proceed. Complying with NEPA means agencies must complete NEPA environmental reviews of proposed major actions, which may include broad planning efforts and specific projects.
The Minerals Management Service applies the government-wide framework for conducting a NEPA review, including an Environmental Impact Statement, an Environmental Assessment, or a Categorical Exclusion. MMS also follows DOI specific NEPA regulations and the MMS procedures that are tailored to its authorities and actions (43 C.F.R. Part 46).
In February, 2010, CEQ proposed steps to modernize and reinvigorate NEPA by issuing draft guidance on: when and how Federal agencies must consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their proposed actions; clarifying appropriateness of "Findings of No Significant Impact" and specifying when there is a need to monitor environmental mitigation commitments; clarifying the use of categorical exclusions; and enhancing public tools for reporting on NEPA activities. Under the proposed guidance, CEQ will increase its oversight role under NEPA by regularly reviewing agencies' use of categorical exclusions. Complete guidance can be found at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa
In addition to the review announced today, the Obama Administration is also proposing to Congress that it eliminate a 30-day congressionally-mandated deadline for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to act on exploration plans that oil and gas companies submit. Changing this 30-day mandatory deadline to a 90-day timeline that can be further extended to complete environmental and safety reviews, as needed, would provide MMS more time to conduct additional environmental analysis on exploration plans, if needed.