NEPA Changes with Debt Ceiling Agreement

June 5, 2023
The reform to NEPA will streamline infrastructure project reviews while reducing project costs.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill that suspends the U.S. government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.

President Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement following tense negotiations late last week, and then The House of Representatives and the Senate passed the bipartisan bill, which averts what would have been a first-ever default with just two days to spare.

The bill has a huge implication for the roads and bridges construction industry. It has almost all the components of the Building U.S. Infrastructure through Limited Delays & Efficient Reviews (BUILDER) Act. This means there will be some changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The reform to NEPA will streamline infrastructure project reviews while reducing project costs. These changes are the most significant reforms to NEPA since 1982. They include:

  • Implementation of the One Federal Decision for all NEPA-reviewed projects, designation of a lead agency to set a permitting schedule and use of a single document for reviews involving multiple agencies;
  • Setting page and time limits for the completion of environmental documents and providing a right of action to project applicants if the agency does not adhere to deadlines;
  • Permitting project sponsors to assist agencies conduct reviews to expedite the process;
  • Allowing agencies to adopt categorical exclusions used by other agencies through a streamlined process;
  • Clarifying the definition of a “major federal action” under NEPA, including a list of actions that do not qualify as such.

Judicial review was not included in the BUILDER Act but will be considered as part of a separate agreement later this year.

A coalition of organizations, including the American Public Works Association (APWA), sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requesting that they work with Congress to ensure rulemaking designating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances is coupled with legislation providing statutory relief for public works.

The coalition urged Congress to not hold public works liable for PFAS under a “polluter pays” principle as they did not manufacture or profit from PFAS.

The debt ceiling has been lifted until January 2025, capping nondefense spending to current fiscal levels for 2024. It will increase to 1% for fiscal year 2025. After 2025, spending limits would be unenforceable appropriations targets rather than statutory caps. Other components include:

  • No sharp cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, essentially flat funding levels;
  • None of the recissions impact the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or the IRA;
  • Significant changes to the Clean Water Act are not in H.R. 3746;
  • Recission of $2.2 billion for highway Infrastructure appropriated in CRRSAA;
  • Enacts first ever Administrative Pay-Go to hold agencies accountable for the full cost of Executive rules and regulations by forcing them to be deficit neutral and find dollar-for-dollar savings in the government for costly rules and regulations.


Source: Reuters; APWA