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BPC Task Force Report Renews Focus on NEPA Categorical Exclusions to Accelerate Clean Energy Infrastructure

Washington, DC – Today, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Smarter, Cleaner, Faster Infrastructure Task Force released a new white paper analyzing the importance of categorical exclusions and how they can best be used to streamline the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act.  

With over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure projects in the pipeline following enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, increasing efficiency in the environmental review and permitting process is essential for accelerating delivery of the clean energy infrastructure necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  

Categorical exclusions alone won’t solve our permitting woes, but they’re a really important tool in the toolkit,” said Xan Fishman, BPC director of energy policy and carbon management. “We shouldn’t waste time examining things that we know won’t cause harm, and maximizing the use of categorical exclusions allows agencies to focus on reducing the timelines for the big, complicated projects. That’s why we saw provisions for categorical exclusions in both the Sen. Manchin and Sen. Capito permitting bills.” 

In the report, The Role of Categorical Exclusions in Achieving Net-Zero by 2050, the task force explains the benefits of categorical exclusions—a class of actions that a federal agency determines does not have a significant effect on the environment—the process for evaluating them, their limits, and additional opportunities to expand the use of this tool. 

The paper builds upon the task force’s previous report with four new recommendations that would increase the utilization and effectiveness of categorical exclusions for clean energy and carbon management projects: 

  1. Existing categorical exclusions should be extended to other agencies. 
  2. Agencies should create new categorical exclusions for actions that do not have a significant environmental impact. 
  3. Agencies should seek out suggestions on new and improved categorical exclusions. 
  4. Congress should fund agencies to review, designate, and utilize categorical exclusions.  

Due to the amount of time, effort, and interagency coordination involved in the creation of an Environmental Impact Statement, or briefer Environmental Assessment, NEPA reviews can significantly delay project delivery by several years and increase the costs of infrastructure projects, even when an agency ultimately concludes that a project will have no significant environmental impact. Maximizing the use of categorical exclusions where appropriate frees up limited staff time and resources for reviewing more complicated projects. 

The task force writes, “decarbonizing the U.S. economy is necessary, urgent, and profoundly challenging. We hope this is a useful resource for implementing policies and programs to more efficiently support economic growth, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet net-zero goals, while continuing to safeguard the environment.” 

Read the Report