Obama’s natural resource memorandum

Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business advocate

On November 3, 2015, President Obama issued a memorandum to the Secretaries of Defense, Interior and Agriculture, and the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration directing them to revise their existing policies to incorporate a new “net benefit goal” for mitigating impacts from natural resource use. More specifically, the new policy sets a “no net loss” goal for the land, water, wildlife and other natural resources that agencies manage; signaling a new approach to regulating land and water-impacting activities within federal jurisdiction.

In the memo, the White House has instructed federal agencies to develop individual policies incorporating this new “net benefit” standard to avoid, minimize and compensate for natural resource losses. Accordingly, the agencies are to “adopt a clear and consistent approach” for incorporating the mitigation hierarchy (e.g., avoid, minimize, and compensate).

In addition to incorporating the net benefit goal, agency policies should take advantage of available large-scale plans and analysis, and give preference to “advance compensation mechanisms that are likely to achieve clearly defined environmental performance standards prior to the harmful impacts of a project.” The policy also requires agencies to consider environmental analysis prepared by third parties including non-governmental agencies.

Lastly, the Memorandum directs the agencies to identify high-value areas that contain “irreplaceable natural resources” where development should be avoided and to seek to identify areas where development is appropriate. The future of the net benefit goal is unclear, particularly after a change in administration. Moreover, it also remains to be seen to what degree the current Administration will request input from stakeholders and states, and whether the net result of this change will lead to new mitigation requirements, spur public-private partnerships, and lead alter the timeliness of environmental reviews.

Agencies must adopt and implement the new policies within one-to-two years. AOI will continue to monitor federal implementation of the new policy and collaborate with our national partners to ensure the business community voice is heard.

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