Thursday, July 14, 2016
USDA APHIS proposed changes to NEPA
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to amend its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures. These updates will clarify and modify the categories of action, expand the list of actions that would be categorically excluded from NEPA, and establish an environmental documentation process to use in emergencies. The White House Council on Environmental Quality directs agencies to periodically review and revise their NEPA-implementing procedures to ensure they are implemented properly and that the actions within the categories are accurate. Given this, APHIS is proposing to amend the regulations due to many advances that have taken place since the regulations were last updated in 1995. Many of those advances are not covered under the current NEPA regulations. Ultimately, the proposed amendments will clarify areas of regulations that have caused confusion about how and when to apply NEPA classes of action. For example, the proposed revisions will clarify and explicitly identify actions such as, but not limited to the following, as being categorically excluded from needing an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment: • use of pheromones to manage plant pests • collection of pest insects for surveillance purposes • issuance of permits for sterile insects • collection of biological samples for domestic livestock disease programs In addition, by establishing new categorical exclusions, APHIS will also eliminate the need to prepare more time-consuming, costly, and unnecessary NEPA documents for a number of program activities, including: Biotechnology and Regulatory Services’ extension of petitions for a determination of nonregulated status, and the Center for Veterinary Biologics’ authorization of field testing for product development and issuance of a license or permit for unlicensed veterinary biologics, including livestock vaccines. It is vital that APHIS updates its NEPA implementing procedures to ensure the Agency can effectively protect the environment while executing its mission of protecting American agriculture. APHIS will hold a virtual meeting during the comment period based on stakeholder response. The date for any future virtual meeting will be announced via another stakeholder announcement. A draft of this proposed rule can be viewed here. This notice will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days. Once published in the Federal Register, it will be available for review and comment at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0049 or in our reading room, which is located in room 1141 of the USDA South Building, 14th Street and Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC. Normal reading room hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays. To be sure someone is there to help you, please call (202) 799-7039 before coming.