The bipartisan permitting deal included in the looming debt-ceiling legislation clears a path to allow the White House to incorporate a host of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) streamlining measures in its upcoming phase 2 rule, a measure environmentalists have long warned would be a disappointment and not the widely expected rebuke of the 2020 Trump-era NEPA streamlining measure.

However, the legislation, which amends NEPA, is also expected to slow the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) release of the phase 2 rule, because the statutory changes will need to be incorporated into the regulation, which has been undergoing interagency review since Jan. 30 and had been expected to be published in June.

One environmentalist calls the debt deal “very disappointing” on NEPA, including a new provision that allows project sponsors to sue if federal agencies miss one- and two-year deadlines to complete their NEPA reviews.

But the source adds that unless the administration knew about some of the new provisions ahead of time, including new “e-NEPA” requirements, “I can’t see how the rule that they’ve written could come out any time soon because it’s based on a different statute.” While some of the provisions are carried over from the 2020 rule, such as a NEPA exemption for concentrated animal feeding operations seeking certain federal loans, others are “totally new.”

Also, Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, warned last week that CEQ’s June date for releasing the phase 2 rule could slip if NEPA is changed as part of the debt deal.

There is no sense that the rule “will come out” anytime soon, in such a scenario, he said.

–Inside EPA