NEPA News: Phase 1 Restoration and What It Means for Wild Winters

The Biden Administration will move forward with reviving portions of the regulation that requires federal environmental reviews. Wild winters stand to win with more environmental review and climate-conscious alternatives to proposed projects on public lands.

Photo Credit: Sofia Jaramillo / Rider: Emilé Zynobia

Written with assistance from Outdoor Alliance and American Alpine Club

In early October 2021, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced they would be moving forward with Phase 1 of their plan to reverse the Trump-era changes to the National Environmental Policy Act regulation.

The Biden administration is going to roll back the rollbacks.

In their announcement, CEQ states this move is part of the administration’s  “whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis and confronting environmental injustice” and will restore three provisions of the original NEPA. The reforms are intended to restore “durability and regulatory certainty, cut down on conflict, deliver sounder results on the ground, and aim to get more American workers on the job building our next generation of infrastructure.”

Our #ProtectNEPA campaign with Outdoor Alliance and American Alpine Club in 2020 allowed our Alliance to fight together for the future of the wild winter landscapes we know and love. Together, we sued the Trump administration for their changes to NEPA in 2020 and then petitioned the Biden administration in 2021 to take action to restore these protections. 

Now, we’re seeing the fruits of our actions: thank you to everyone that fought with us! And thank you to our members for supporting our year-round work.

What is Phase 1 of the process to restore NEPA?

The three provisions intended to be restored in Phase 1 of this proposed rulemaking action would:

  1. Require federal agencies to evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making. The “direct,” “indirect,” and “cumulative” impacts of a proposed decision must be considered.
  2. Require agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs, which gives flexibility to determine the “purpose and need” of a proposed project based on a variety of factors and asks agencies to work with project proponents and communities to mitigate or avoid environmental harms by analyzing common sense alternatives. The 2020 NEPA rule limited federal agencies’ ability to develop and consider alternative designs or approaches that do not fully align with the stated goals of the project’s sponsor, often a private company. At WWA, this specifically rings true in current ski area expansions we are working against.
  3. Establish CEQ’s NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies are asked to meet. Phase 1 aims to restore the ability of Federal agencies to tailor their NEPA procedures, consistent with the CEQ NEPA regulations, to help meet the specific needs of their agencies, the public, and stakeholders.
How does this impact wild winters?

From ski area expansion to wilderness designations to ensuring balance between motorized and non-motorized use: we, alongside all public lands recreationalists and those that manage our favorite spaces to play, use NEPA to make informed and scientific decisions about how we impact these lands almost every day.

Whether it’s forest planning, winter travel planning, planning a specific access trail or trailhead, or defending a popular backcountry skiing zone from development, we utilize and work with NEPA on a near-daily basis. 

Use NEPA to share your voice today by visiting our action center, where we’re covering our fight against ski area expansions from Washington to Minnesota and forthcoming winter travel planning updates.

Wild winters stand to win with more environmental review and climate-conscious alternatives to proposed projects on public lands.

So, what’s next?

CEQ held public meetings virtually on the proposed rule in late October and, over the coming months, we expect to hear more details on their broader Phase 2 changes. Their goals, as outlined by their release, are “to help ensure full and fair public involvement in the environmental review process; meet the nation’s environmental, climate change, and environmental justice challenges; provide regulatory certainty to stakeholders; and promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s goals and requirements.”

Read our comments on this first round of proposals, submitted by the collective partners at Outdoor Alliance.

We expect Phase 2 to reflect our values for the American peoples’ voice being heard when it comes to our sacred winter spaces and hope that Phase 2:

  1. Better incorporates analysis of indirect and cumulative impacts and climate.
  2. Drops deference to applicants to define purpose and need and do their own NEPA.
  3. Defines CEQ regulations as the floor rather than the ceiling.

For now, let’s celebrate our voices as heard and hard work as acknowledged. 

Thank you for being part of the solution! If you’d like to up the ante, please consider celebrating this win with a donation to WWA or becoming a member to help us meet our year-end fundraising goals.