CEQ Announces Projects to Improve Efficiency of Federal Environmental Reviews through Creation of Best Practice Principles, Use of Effective IT Tool
WASHINGTON - The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today announced two new projects as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilots under an initiative launched in March of this year to solicit ideas for innovative approaches to increasing the efficiency of Federal environmental reviews. CEQ has selected a proposal to gather lessons-learned from agencies that have significant experience preparing Environmental Assessments and create best practice principles to facilitate more efficient and cost-effective NEPA environmental reviews. CEQ also selected a project to make a NEPA information technology tool more user-friendly and available to the public.
“NEPA is a cornerstone of our Nation’s effort to protect the health of our communities and the natural resources that fuel our economy,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “These pilot projects will help Federal agencies save time and money, and promote more efficient and effective environmental reviews for projects that create jobs, grow our economy, and protect the health and environment of our communities.”
Pilot Project on Best Practice Principles (BPPs) for Environmental Assessments
Environmental Assessments (EAs), one of three types of NEPA environmental reviews, are frequently prepared as a method for compliance with NEPA across the Federal Government. If a Federal agency EA finds there will be no significant impact on the environment from a proposed project, they can proceed without completing a more intensive Environmental Impact Statement. Because limited guidance exists on the preparation of EAs, Federal agencies often dedicate significant time and resources preparing lengthy documents that are more complex and difficult to comprehend than necessary or originally intended. Even so, agencies can still find themselves in costly litigation challenged with demonstrating they provided adequate rationale for their decisions.
Under this NEPA pilot project, the National Association of Environmental Professionals will engage agencies and NEPA practitioners that have experience in preparing EAs, assemble lessons learned, and design best practice principles to present in a report to CEQ. CEQ will seek public comment and input on the best practice principles and, once finalized, provide them to agency NEPA practitioners and use them as a training and educational tool. Experience-based best practice principles will focus on the preparation of effective EAs that are timelier, more cost-effective, and incorporate those environmental issues that are relevant to the decision making process. This is expected to improve the quality and transparency of agency decision making by decreasing the length and complexity of EAs, encouraging the use of timelines and page limit ranges, providing for expedited review, and promoting public involvement.
Pilot Project to Improve Access to the NEPAssist Information Technology Tool
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s NEPAssist Geographic Information System is a web-based application that has a proven track record of helping Federal, tribal, state and local NEPA practitioners effectively analyze and use environmental and geographic data relevant to the NEPA process. Some of the key features of NEPAssist include:
- Employing standardized data-sets from federal, state, and local agencies;
- Providing access to real-time data and customizable regional reports and analysis;
- Improving early coordination between partner agencies;
- Reducing the time to review Federal agencies’ scoping notices and projects at early stages of development; and
- Assisting users to direct project locations to the least environmentally-sensitive areas and identify areas where impacts should be avoided or mitigation would be most helpful.
This pilot project will create a more user-friendly interface for NEPAssist to ease access and encourage more agencies to take advantage of the time- and cost-saving program. The pilot project will also make NEPAssist publicly available online in the spring of 2012, providing the public and stakeholders access to this tool.
As part of the NEPA Pilots Program, CEQ will select up to two 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.