Regulators Use NEPA to Say "No"

How do regulatory agencies use NEPA to say "No" to a proposed project?

Members of the community consult a wall mapNEPA is not a permit. It does not authorize a company to go forward and begin a project. It is an assessment of environmental impacts that government regulators use when deciding whether or not to grant their individual agency’s permits. More often than not, the developer that is proposing to build a project pays the extra costs for the NEPA analysis – especially for an EIS, which is very expensive.
The developer follows the process very closely by attending public meetings and responding to regulators’ requests for information on their proposal.

If the potential developer realizes that the NEPA analysis is predicting impacts that the regulators will not grant a required permit for – then the developer generally stops paying for the analysis and the NEPA process ends.
So, the general public rarely sees a completed analysis with a negative permit decision – the process stops before that happens. The negative conclusions in the course of the NEPA analysis sometimes cause the process to stop before a formal decision is sent to public notice. 

Projects where regulators denied the project due to initial analysis

When people say “But the regulators never say ‘No’ to a developer,” it is because they are not aware of the analysis that is completed early in NEPA processes that leads agencies to conclude that they will not grant the permits requested by a developer for his preferred project proposal. Below are some examples where agencies have used NEPA to say “No” to a project as proposed by the developer:

  • Quartz Hill. In 1987, U.S. Borax abandoned $100 million+ molybdenum project (almost $200 million in today’s dollars). After the EIS evaluation, EPA would not authorize the tailings system that the company said was necessary to develop the project.
  • Ryan Lode In 1996, the owner of the Fort Knox Gold Mine acquired the Ryan Lode property and began the process to permit gold mining. After an initial public meeting, the company realized that the environmental and neighborhood protections that the agencies would require made the project uneconomic to develop. As a result, the company abandoned plans to mine the property and reclaimed the site.
  • AJ Mine Echo Bay Mining Company’s attempt to re-open the historic Alaska Juneau (AJ) Gold Mine near Juneau was dropped after the agencies refused to authorize a tailings site in the Sheep Creek valley. The company began the process for submarine tailings disposal (i.e., in the ocean), but shut down the project for economic reasons before the agencies’ decision became known.