NEPA and the Keys to Environmental Clearance for Your Project

May 1, 2015

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on Jan. 1, 1970, to protect, maintain, and enhance the environment amid concerns that human actions were negatively affecting the environment. NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions as well as reasonable alternatives. Throughout the United States, NEPA provides a framework to facilitate detailed evaluation and assessment of potential impacts on a multitude of environmental resources and ensure compliance with other applicable federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations.

When NEPA Is Required & Steps Involved:
Generally, every federal action that may affect the environment
must undergo a review under NEPA unless the activity is
specifically exempted by law. In addition, if a project sponsored
by a local or state agency (such as the Texas Water Development
Board) requires a federal permit/approval or involves federal
funding, then it too must comply with NEPA. Basic steps are
similar for any agency and generally consist of the following:
—— Scoping and data collection to identify constraints, potential
issues, concerns, and a range of alternatives;
—— Public involvement and agency coordination;
—— Alternatives analysis;
—— Evaluating existing conditions and impacts to the natural
and human environment;
—— Developing measures to avoid, minimize or mitigate harm to
the environment; and
—— Preparing clear and concise documentation.
While a host of legislation addresses specific environmental aspects (such as Clean Water Act Section 404 protections for waters of the United States), NEPA requires comprehensive consideration of environmental impacts, including land use; utilities; future developments; population and demographic characteristics; economics and employment; cultural resources; air quality; water resources/quality; vegetation; noise levels; hazardous materials; soils; floodplains; flood control features; wild and scenic rivers; ecosystems; wildlife; farmland; and public parks;
among others.

NEPA Compliance:
—— Have a plan! It’s imperative that your plan be in place at the outset for project management, public involvement, agency coordination, and QA/QC. And, have a project schedule identifying
critical milestones and coordination checkpoints.
—— Identify stakeholders and conduct early and continuous public involvement to build consensus; coordinate early on with state and
federal resource agencies such as the Texas Historical Commission. Engaging the public and agencies is critical to expediting projects through the NEPA process. This means bringing all stakeholders together early, keeping them involved throughout, and making their input part of decisions.
—— Identify constraints and potentially significant impacts ASAP to modify the project design and/or operations to avoid or minimize impacts.
—— Conduct an accurate, thorough, objective analysis of environmental impacts of reasonable alternatives.
—— Write documentation so that the general public can easily understand it. NEPA documents should not consist of endless data, but instead should focus on substantive issues and present analysis in a concise, meaningful way that tells the story about how a decision was made to address the need for a project or program. Use visuals and graphics to convey important information.
—— Encourage constant communication and collaborate constantly among all disciplines making up the project team. Good communication
is vital to completing projects on time and within budget. Internal project meetings should be held regularly to discuss assignments, progress, staffing, schedules, and budgets. Items on the critical path should be continuously evaluated to ensure the schedule does not slip.


The Take-Away
Halff has been successfully assisting clients with NEPA compliance for more than 20 years and can help you. Halff excels in delivering the full range of NEPA-related services on federal and locally sponsored projects that have federal involvement. For details, please call Jason Diamond, a team leader for Halff’s Environmental Services Group, at 214-346-6395.