NAWRB Response to the United States Forest Service’s NEPA Proposed Rulemaking

NAWRB

Desirée Patno is the CEO & President of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE). With almost three decades specializing in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem, she leads her executive team’s expertise of advancing women’s economic growth and independence.

You don’t have to live in homes like the hobbits did in The Lord of The Rings to be among nature’s finest gifts. While making sure we are building enough homes to meet the demand of the rising population is important, we also need to consider the effects of construction and our daily lives on the environment. More environmentally-friendly homes are being built with sustainable resources, and there has been an increased focus on adapting our buildings to the land instead of forcing it to adapt to us.  

Earlier this year, NAWRB had the opportunity to write a request for comment (RFC) to the United States Forest Service’s proposal to revise its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures to better facilitate its goals of protecting the health and sustainable use of our national forests and increasing efficient environmental analysis. NEPA plays a key role in this by outlining the process by which the agency conducts its analysis and makes crucial decisions regarding the National Forest System lands. 

Below is our thorough response regarding the proposed amendments to NEPA. We would like to give a special thank you to Noemi Lujan Perez, VP of Government and Media Relations, ECO Diversity Media, for drawing our attention to this issue as the environment is a pertinent, but often overlooked, feature of the housing industry, as well as for her assistance in writing our response with her expert knowledge of the field. 

February 2, 2018

Re: National Environmental Policy Act Compliance, Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; Request For Comment; 83 Fed. Reg. 302 (Jan. 3, 2018) (36 C.F.R. Part 220: Docket No. RIN 0596-AD31)

This letter contains Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem’s (NAWRB) comments on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Forest Service, USDA, Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and request for comment published on January 3, 2018. 83 Fed. Reg. 302.

Created in 2010, NAWRB is a leading voice for women in the housing ecosystem. NAWRB is dedicated to providing women the tools and opportunities for economic growth and expansion, while advocating and promoting women-owned businesses. NAWRB is the only third-party industry-specific certifier of Women-Owned Businesses (WOB) and Minority Women-Owned Businesses (MWOB) in the housing economy. NAWRB provides a unique platform for uniting Women in Housing and Women in Government including educational training on contracting opportunities both government and private, to expand our members’ business growth. 

NAWRB empowers women in our advocacy relationships with the Office(s) of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI), Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) and other organizations. Since August of 2010, NAWRB has been championing the OMWIs, to bring more diversity and inclusion to our industry with their awareness, opportunities and access.

NAWRB appreciates this opportunity to provide comments in response to the above referenced ANPR, which states that the Forest Service is proposing to revise its NEPA procedures with the goal of increasing efficiency of environmental analysis. Specifically, the ANPR asked for com- ments regarding the following:

1. Process and analysis requirements that can be modified, reduced, or eliminated in order to reduce time and cost while maintaining science-based, high quality analysis; public involvement, and honoring agency stewardship responsibilities

2. Approaches to landscape-scale analysis and decision making under NEPA that facilitate restoration of National Forest System lands;

3. Classes of actions that are unlikely, either individually or cumulatively, to have significant impacts and therefore should be categorically excluded from NEPA environmental assessment and environmental impact statement requirements such as integrated restoration projects, special use authorizations, and activities to maintain and manage Agency sites (including recreation sites), facilities, and associated infrastructure; and 

4. Ways the Agency might expand and enhance coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions with other Federal agencies, as well as State, Tribal, or local environmental reviews.

A. NAWRB’s Interest in Efficient NEPA Environmental Analysis NAWRB members are active collaborating partners with green and sustainable corporations, brands, and engaged in the housing ecosystem.

B. General Comments The NEPA process as conducted by the Forest Service and other federal agencies would benefit from change to be more efficient and timely to meet NEPA’s objective of facilitating reasonably informed decision making regarding proposed federal agency actions with significant environmental effects. There are numerous ways that the Forest Service can revise its current NEPA regulations codified at 36 C.F.R. Part 220 and related Forest Service Manual and Handbook NEPA provisions to achieve this goal. 

Changes to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations codified at 40 C.F.R. §§ 1500-1508 and the regulations of other federal agencies who are involved with national forest programs and projects will also help procedures more efficiently, and are hopefully underway, but the Forest Service need not await such changes to update its own regulations. In revising its NEPA regulations, the Forest Service should also address NFMA forest plan revision, amendment, consistency, and resource requirements.

 

Further changes to the Forest Service planning regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 219 and objection process regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 212 may be needed to fully implement the NEPA and related process efficiency improvements that are needed.

Executive Order 13807 specifically calls for the establishment of streamlined NEPA and related environmental and permitting reviews. The Department of the Interior (DOI) recently issued Secretarial Order 3355 to streamline NEPA reviews conducted by DOI agencies. Order 3355 includes a number of provisions that the Forest Service should consider in revising its NEPA regulations and directives, including: 

1) Completion of Environment Impact Statements (EIS) within one year of issuing the Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS; 

2) Establishing target page limits for EIS and environmental assessment (EA) documents;

3) More use of previous NEPA or other environmental analysis when completing related subsequent analyses, including state entity analyses (consistent with the “tiering” and “incorporation by reference” concepts in the CEQ regulations); 

4) Improved coordination among lead, cooperating, and other participating agencies; and

5)  Increased use of categorical exclusions (CEs) from NEPA where appropriate.

NAWRB members’ experience reflects that the processing of applications for leases, permits, and other Forest Service authorizations is often delayed because it and other federal licensing or regulatory agencies participate in the NEPA and related permitting processes sequentially rather than simultaneously. Moreover, there is usually not an overall schedule, with enforceable timelines for deliverables from the agencies, that is adopted, or accountability for missing due dates in a project schedule. In addition, some project opponents seek to delay projects through appeals that lack merit. 

All of these problems can be remedied or alleviated through updated regulations and other administrative actions. Finally, special attention should be focused on providing CEs for forest and watershed health projects designed to improve water flow and quality, and to implement measures that prevent or reduce the risk of destructive forest fires or insect and disease infestations, or that rehabilitate burned or infested areas.

C. Specific Comments 

1. Process and analysis requirements that can be modified, reduced, or eliminated:

a. Provide further emphasis such as that in CEQ guidance that:

• NEPA encourages straightforward and concise reviews;

• NEPA documentation should be proportionate to the potential impacts of the proposed action;

• NEPA process and analysis should be tailored to avoid excessive burdens; and

• EISs should be reserved for analysis of proposed actions that are expected to result in significant environmental impacts.

2. Consultation regarding effects on historic properties and cultural resources under the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”) and other protocols should be coordinated with the NEPA process, and at an early stage involve the State Historic Preservation Office and any interested affected Tribes so that qualified historic and cultural resources are protected as appropriate without excessive delay in process. 

The Forest Service should provide direction encouraging contracting and otherwise partnering with state and local agencies and adjacent landowners and managers to complete relevant studies and reports and provide other data, information, technical and local expertise, and knowledge for NEPA and other environmental analysis. WUWC members are in many instances major, knowledgeable owners or managers of adjacent lands and resources.

In conclusion, this rulemaking is an opportunity for the Forest Service to address on a meaningful scale our comments above and those of others who support cost-effective national forest management. The WUWC looks forward to continued dialogue and collaboration as the Forest Service continues the rulemaking process.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments. If you have any questions regarding our comments, please contact Desirée Patno, CEO & President of NAWRB, Desiree.Patno@www.nawrb.com, 949-559-9800. 

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