CEQ NEPA Pilot Program

As part of the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) broad efforts to modernize and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA through innovation, public engagement, and transparency, CEQ issued a solicitation to members of the public and Federal agencies on March 17, 2011, inviting them to nominate projects employing innovative approaches to completing environmental reviews more efficiently and effectively. CEQ will work with the relevant Federal agencies to implement five selected pilots to replicate time- and cost-saving approaches across the Federal government.

Click here to read the NEPA Pilot Project Nominations submitted.

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. CEQ convened a NEPA IT Working Group using the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service tools as examples to highlight other tools with similar functionalities. The Working Group promoted the availability and adoption of these NEPA IT tools, providing Federal agencies with the template for an IT tool that effectively and efficiently tracks, manages, and reports on the NEPA process. Currently,  the NEPA IT Working Group is focused on determining how agencies currently track and manage their NEPA processes and what management IT tools they can employ to help them manage the development and reviews of proposed projects.

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. The experience-based best practice principles will focus on the preparation of effective EAs that are timelier and more cost-effective, while promoting public involvement and encouraging timelines and page limits.

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 geospatial layers and to make the tool publicly available. EPA announced the public NEPAssist site on April 26, 2012. EPA is continuing to enhance the NEPAssist public view to increase the availability of data layers in the application that can be viewed on the map.  In particular, EPA plans to incorporate additional Federal Agencies’ web-based services to help expedite and improve the quality of environmental reviews and the NEPA process.

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 passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor. CEQ and DOT committed to a one-year pilot focused on 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. CEQ worked with DOT and the Federal resource and regulatory agencies to develop and finalize a Statement of Principles in January 2013 that provided an alternative to developing a Memorandum of Understanding to memorialize the Federal participating agencies’ roles and responsibilities. Efficiencies identified for the high-speed rail project were compiled in a best practices memo

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,” evaluates and compares the effectiveness of environmental reviews for two forest restoration projects and identifies best practices for future restoration projects. This pilot is intended to demonstrate that early involvement of stakeholders can reduce costs and enhance efficiencies throughout the Federal Government while maintaining strong environmental safeguards at the ground level.  The collaborative efforts and best practices related to this pilot will be presented in webinars for Federal planners and NEPA practitioners.

Background

NOMINATION PROCESS:  CEQ sought nominations of projects that propose improvements to any aspect of the NEPA process that can be replicated to increase efficiency of this process across government, including:

  • Simplifying NEPA implementation practices, such as data gathering, scoping, and public review and comment. NEPA applies to a wide variety of proposed actions, many of which are proposed by state and local agencies, corporations, tribes, organizations, and private individuals. CEQ is very interested in approaches that appropriately leverage and coordinate Federal, state, tribal, and local environmental review, consultation, and permitting requirements.
  • Reducing the time and cost involved in preparing NEPA reviews, by reducing paperwork and shortening timelines; applying NEPA early in the project development process; setting page limits; addressing incomplete or unavailable information; collaboratively developing purpose and need statements; determining the scope of the NEPA analysis; and preparing concise and focused EAs.
  • Utilizing information technology to improve the efficiency of NEPA implementation for a particular project, or when adopted program-wide.
  • Improving the effectiveness of public engagement, such as by making NEPA documents and analyses easier to read and understand, and enhancing public involvement to address environmental justice or other community concerns. 

SELECTION PROCESS:  CEQ will consult with agencies to confirm that any project nominated by a member of the public complies with existing laws and regulations, will improve the agency's NEPA implementation, and can be implemented with resources that are or will become available. A panel of NEPA experts from federal agencies will perform an initial screening of nominations to identify those with the greatest potential to:

(1) reduce the costs and/or time needed to complete the NEPA process;
(2) ensure environmental protection;
(3) improve the quality and transparency of Federal agency decisionmaking; and
(4) yield best practices or procedural innovations that can be replicated by other agencies or applied to other Federal actions or programs so as to improve NEPA implementation beyond a specific project.

CEQ will consult with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice to select the pilot projects. CEQ will consider Administration priorities and strive for a diverse set of projects—in terms of geography, agency participation, and natural resource management issues—to the extent possible, given the range of qualified nominations submitted.

Eventually, successful pilots could lead to the adoption of new or revised NEPA procedures. Accordingly, CEQ is also using this process to meet its obligations under section 6 of Executive Order 13563 to facilitate a review of provisions of CEQ's NEPA Regulations that may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome. CEQ will coordinate with agencies to find ways to more widely deploy the best practices identified through successful pilot projects.

Click here to read the solicitation from the CEQ Chair announcing the CEQ NEPA Pilot Program.

Click here to read the NEPA Pilot Project Nominations.