CEQ Launches Project to Improve Efficiency of Federal Environmental Reviews through Information Technology Tools
Pilot Project will help agencies comply with President Obama’s directive to speed infrastructure development
WASHINGTON, DC – The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today announced the first project under its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilots Program, an initiative launched in March of this year to identify and deploy innovative approaches to increase the efficiency of Federal environmental reviews. After reviewing nominations from Federal agencies and the public, CEQ has identified two information technology (IT) tools developed by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service that have significant potential to reduce costs and save time in Federal NEPA implementation. Deploying these and other appropriate IT tools will facilitate Federal agencies' compliance with President Obama's memorandum, issued today, on "Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review."
The selected IT tools improve the efficiency of environmental reviews by enabling online submission and processing of public comments, or allowing personnel from different agencies or jurisdictions to coordinate review timelines, share data, and review documents through a common, internet-based platform. In accordance with President Obama's memorandum, over the next 120 days CEQ will work with agencies, the Federal Chief Technology Officer and the Federal Chief Information Officer to deploy relevant IT tools, such as those selected for the NEPA pilots program, across the Federal Government.
"NEPA helps us protect the health of American communities and the natural resources that fuel our economy," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. "Deploying these IT tools and others like them will promote faster and more effective Federal decisions on projects that create jobs, grow our economy, and protect the health and environment of our communities."
Enacted four decades ago, NEPA improves Federal decision-making by sharing information in advance with the public and Federal stakeholders about the environmental effects of a proposed action and reasonable alternatives. The NEPA Pilots Program is part of CEQ's broader effort to modernize and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA and improve the transparency and effectiveness of Federal environmental reviews. CEQ received 37 nominations for the NEPA Pilots Program during a 90-day submission period, from March 17 to June 15, 2011, including 19 nominations from the public. The nominations were evaluated by a panel of Federal NEPA specialists, who gave top rankings to the nominations of two IT tools that agencies are currently using to improve their NEPA implementation. Those tools are the Planning, Environment, and Public Comment System (PEPC), an online collaboration tool developed by the National Park Service (NPS), and eMNEPA, a suite of web-based tools and databases used by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Both PEPC and eMNEPA share similar functions that make the NEPA process more efficient, including shortening the time needed to process and analyze public comments received through online submission. Additionally, both PEPC and eMNEPA enable collaborative development, and online publication and storage, of NEPA documents.
Since its debut in 2004, USFS has realized significant savings through eMNEPA compared to 2003 NEPA implementation cost estimates. PEPC, launched in 2005, has 6,000 users who utilize the tool to manage NEPA reviews for 27,000 NPS projects. The tool allows NPS to process comments many times faster, saving hundreds of man hours during the comment analysis period for projects with high comment volume. Deploying tools like PEPC and eMNEPA more broadly across the Federal Government has significant potential to reduce the cost and time involved in preparing, publishing, and tracking progress on NEPA reviews and documentation.
As part of the NEPA Pilots Program, CEQ will select up to four more pilot projects with potential to increase the efficiency of environmental reviews in ways that can be replicated across the Federal Government. For more information on CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilots Program, please visit http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/nepa-pilot-project.
For more information on President Obama's memorandum on "Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review," please visit http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/.