From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published April 25, 2012 07:01 PM

New EPA Mapping Tool

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the public release of a web-based mapping tool developed for Federal agencies to facilitate more efficient and effective environmental reviews and project planning. The tool, NEPAssist, is part of an initiative developed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to modernize and reinvigorate federal agency implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) through innovation, public participation and transparency. NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development.

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To meet NEPA requirements federal agencies must prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). EPA reviews and comments on EISs prepared by other federal agencies, maintains a national filing system for all EISs, and assures that its own actions comply with NEPA.

"NEPAssist helps users identify the possible impacts of federal projects on local environments and communities," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "By making tools like NEPAssist available to the public, EPA is helping citizens to be involved in environmental decisions that affect their community."

NEPA requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas.

In October 2011, NEPAssist was selected as a White House Council on Environmental Quality National Environmental Policy Act Pilot Project to improve the efficiency of Federal environmental reviews. CEQ has selected five NEPA Pilot Projects that will employ innovative approaches to completing environmental reviews that can be replicated across the Federal Government.

On August 31, 2011, CEQ announced the selection of the first NEPA Pilot. CEQ 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. CEQ and GSA launched a trial integration of the Park Service's public comment analysis tool with the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard to provide all Federal agencies the opportunity to use this public comment analysis tool to save significant amounts of time and money.

On October 19, 2011, CEQ announced the selection of the second and third NEPA Pilots. For the second Pilot, CEQ 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 Environmental Assessments. The National Association of Environmental Professionals nominated the pilot and has circulated a survey to over 1000 NEPA Practitioners to identify, refine, and highlight Best Practice Principles for preparing Environmental Assessments.

For the third Pilot, CEQ selected EPA's NEPAssist, a web-based GIS tool that allows Federal agencies to analyze area-specific information relevant to the NEPA process. The Pilot was selected to expand the amount of data sets and geospatil layers and to make the tool publicly available.

On January 13, 2012, CEQ and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the selection of a fourth NEPA Pilot to implement an innovative, efficient NEPA review process for high-speed passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor. CEQ and DOT are committed to engaging Federal, state and local governments and the public in the environmental review process earlier to set benchmarks that maintain rigorous environmental protections and save time and costs by avoiding conflicts and delays found in similar complex multi-state transportation projects.

On February 9, 2012, CEQ and the U.S. Forest Service announced the selection of a fifth NEPA Pilot. The final Pilot, "Approaches to Restoration Management," will evaluate and compare the effectiveness of U.S. Forest Service environmental reviews for two forest restoration projects and identify best practices that can be applied to environmental reviews for future restoration projects.

For further information see NEPA and NEPA Projects

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