NEPA Review Introduction
NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 40 CFR 1500-1508) applies to all actions having a federal nexus (i.e., actions that have any federal funding sources, take place on federally owned land, or require federal permits). There are three levels of documentation for NEPA: categorical exclusion (CE), environmental assessment (EA), or environmental impact statement (EIS). This document describes an introduction to the EIS process. A lead federal agency is responsible for ensuring that the NEPA requirements are met. It is important before beginning an EIS review to research an agency’s NEPA policies and procedures typically available through their website. Agency websites will also often have information on specific EIS projects currently under review and how you can get involved.
The EIS is intended to be a disclosure document that systematically evaluates the environmental impacts associated with the proposed action and alternatives, including the no action alternative. Under NEPA the term “environment” encompasses the natural and physical environment (i.e., air, water, geology and soils, biological resources) as well as the relationship of people with that environment (i.e., economics, land uses, public resources, transportation, cultural resources, noise, and aesthetics). The EIS includes a summary, purpose and need statement, proposed alternatives, affected environment, potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts for resource areas, and proposed mitigation. When there is a federal nexus, there are additional federal environmental laws that govern the project and must be considered as part of the NEPA process. The level of documentation depends on the type and extent of potential effects on the environment.
An EIS requires public involvement during each stage of development. The typical timing for the development and completion of an EIS is one to two years. This time period includes the scoping comment period (a minimum of 30 days), the public comment period on the draft EIS (a minimum of 30 days), and a 30-day period after the issuance of the Final EIS before a decision may be completed. At the conclusion of the EIS process, a record of decision (ROD) is prepared by the lead agency. The ROD identifies the chosen alternative and provides rationale for this selection. In addition, the record of decision describes the mitigation measures to be implemented to minimize or compensate for the impacts of the proposed project.
The lead agency may not complete the EIS process until it has considered and responded to comments. Comments in the following areas are particularly valuable:
- Any inaccuracies in the EIS or other documentation;
- Reasonable alternatives to the proposal;
- Areas of potential direct, indirect, or cumulative environmental impacts that have not been identified or that have not been adequately addressed; and
- Possible mitigation measures that could or should be added to the proposal.
It is important to remember that your goal is to communicate your concerns. If you fail to make yourself both understandable and believable, then your message is likely to be wasted. Some other suggestions to consider include:
§ Be clear, concise, and organized. Decide what you need to say before you begin. Developing an outline, if you have a number of points, is a good idea to help you group your comments in a logical order. Jumping back and forth between several topics reduces the impact of your argument.
§ Be specific. Saying that you are against a project will not have as much effect as saying why. It is always a good idea to give as much support as possible to your comments. Include as much factual information as possible.
§ Identify possible solutions. Suggestions on reasonable mitigation (conditions to avoid, minimize, or reduce adverse impacts) may help shape a questionable project into a welcome addition to a community. After identifying your concern, whenever possible, suggest possible solutions.
By Joel Hancock who has worked for the public and private sector for over 10 years in environmental and land use planning. He holds a BS in Geography from the University of North Texas (2001) and a Masters in Urban/Environmental Planning from the University of Texas (2006).