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February 20, 2009
Get a leg up on federal projects by knowing NEPA
A spate of federally funded construction projects will likely increase the need for NEPA reviews.
By STEVE HALLPoint Environmental Consulting
his inauguration, President Obama had been promising to create “millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since thecreation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”With Obama recently signing a $787 billion stimulus package, the nation is poised for aconstruction boom with major projects funded by the federal government. And with major federal projects comes extensive review under local, state and, particularly, federalenvironmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).While there's a lot of talk about “shovel-ready” projects, it's a fair bet that there's going to be alot more NEPA and related environmental reviews over the next few years. Both agencies andthe consultants that serve them in environmental planning need to sharpen their NEPA pencilsand develop strategies and procedures to facilitate NEPA review.Here are some ideas on how to do that:
• Standardize the process for restarting “shovel-ready” projects.
Any deserving projectsthat have gone through final design and environmental review, but have been on the shelf waiting for funding, should be identified, prioritized and systematically brought up to date.Developing a standard approach for reviving projects would be well worth the effort if several projects have been on hold. Checklists for updating NEPA documentationcanhelp, such as
lists of recent regulatory changes, by year, or specific data sets that need to be brought current,such as wildlife and wetlands information.The point here is for agencies and/or consultants faced with getting several projects back online to spend some time upfront to develop efficient and consistent strategies and procedures toget environmental review up to date, rather than just jumping into the pile.
• Use scoping to narrow the issues.
Scoping under NEPA is, by definition, narrowing thefocus of review. An encyclopedic approach is time consuming and ineffective. With the pending influx of NEPA reviews, this may well be a good time to get back to basics and usescoping as intended: To narrow NEPA's focus to addressing only substantive issues.
• Use existing regulations and plans.
Planners should identify and document where adverseimpacts would already be adequately addressed by existing local, state and federal regulations