Environmental Assessments: Guidance on Best Practice Principles

Date01 February 2015
AuthorRon Deverman, P.E. Hudson, Karen Johnson, Ronald E. Lamb, Daniel R. Mandelker, Stephen Pyle, and Dr. Robert Senner
Guidance on
Best Practice
by Ron Deverman, P.E. Hudson,
Karen Johnson, Ronald E. Lamb,
Daniel R. Mandelker, Stephen Pyle,
and Dr. Robert Senner
Ron Deverman is Associate Vice-President of HNTB Corp.,
past President of NAEP, and a 30-year NEPA practitioner in
Chicago. P.E. Hudson, Esq., is Counsel and Environmental Law
and Planning Training Director, Oce of General Counsel,
U.S. Department of the Navy, Ventura, CA. Karen Johnson
has 27 years’ experience in CEP-Documentation in Wylie, TX.
Ronald E. Lamb CEP is chair of the NAEP NEPA Practice in
Washington, D.C. Daniel R. Mandelker is Stamper Professor of
Law, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Stephen Pyle, Esq.,
is Project Manager at HDR Environmental, Operations and
Construction, Inc., in Spring Branch, TX. Dr. Robert Senner
is sole proprietor of Robert Senner Consulting in Seattle.
In response to a 2011 solicitation by the Council on
Environmental Quality, the National Association of
Environmental Professionals developed best practice
principles (BPPs) for preparing eective environmen-
tal assessments (EAs) under NEPA. After extensive
survey research and literature review, the Associa-
tion’s report identied seven Priority One BPPs as
focus areas for improving EAs. ese proposed BPPs
are intended to be applicable across all federal agen-
cies that prepare EAs and are designed to improve the
quality, usefulness, and timeliness of EAs while reduc-
ing the risk of challenge.
I. Introduction
A. Background
e Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released
a solicitation in March 2011 inviting federal a gencies and
environmental professionals to nominate pilot projects as
best examples for more ecient and eective implementa-
tion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),1
to improve the quality and transparency of a gency deci-
sionmaking. e National Association of Environmental
Professionals (NA EP) responded to the CEQ solicitation
with a proposal to develop experience-based best practice
principles (BPPs) for preparing eective environmental
assessments (EAs). e NAEP proposal was one of ve
pilot projects selected by CEQ.2
e rst stage of the pilot project focused on design of
the questionnaire that would be distributed to a wide range
of environmental professionals, and review of the assem-
bled survey responses. e steering committee presented
an overview of the pilot project to the NAEP membership
at a 2013 conference, focusing on the methodology and
results of the survey. e steering committee developed the
nal BPPs for EAs after feedback from the conference and
CEQ. In the last phase of the pilot project, the NAEP team
rened and consolidated the BPPs and conducted quality
reviews, including review and input by CEQ.
is Article focuses on the seven BPPs identied as most
important in advancing the eective and ecient develop-
ment of quality EAs. ese Priority One BPPs are:
• Description of purpose and need
• Description of proposed action and range of
• Content
• Cumulative eects assessment and management
• Regulatory consultation and coordination
• Determination of environmental impact signicance
• Extent of public involvement
1. 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4370f, ELR S. NEPA §§2-209.
2. See Press Release, White House, CEQ Announces Projects to Improve
Eciency of Federal Environmental Reviews rough Creation of Best
Practice Principles, Use of Eective IT Tool (Oct. 19, 2011), availa ble
at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/Press_Releases/
          
       
           
alphabetical order. Any v iews attributab le to co-author P.E.
   
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.
2-2015 NEWS & ANALYSIS 45 ELR 10143
e NAEP presented this guidance to CEQ with the rec-
ommendation that the report be used as a resource material
by the federal agencies as they prepare EAs. NAEP furt her
recommended that individual agencies consider adding
agency-specic BPPs to the seven identied here.
B. Practitioner Knowledge and Development of BPPs
e pilot project hypothesis stated that the assimilation of
practitioner knowledge relating to eective BPPs for E As
would provide the basis for improvements in preparing
EAs. A six-person steering committee completed the rst
stage of the pilot project by formulating the survey ques-
tions, distributing the survey questions, and nally com-
piling the survey questions and recommending BPPs.3
e steering committee identied two groups of selected
recipients of the survey questionnaire. e rst group
included the professional membership of the NAEP; the
second group included a gency NEPA liaisons and other
NEPA collaborators and compliance professionals com-
piled by CEQ. e NAEP membership included 811 pro-
fessionals; the CEQ group consisted of 250 professionals.
Accordingly, the survey questionnaire was sent to 1,061
persons in February 2012. Responses were received over a
22-day period ending in March 2012.
Responding to this survey questionnaire was voluntary
for persons in both the NAEP and CEQ participant groups.
Both groups had a participation rate of about 30% (for the
NAEP group, 240 of 811, or 29.6%; for the CEQ group, 76
of 250, or 30.4%). e questionnaire consisted of 23 ques-
tions composed of a variety of styles and requested inputs.
More specically, groups of questions related to respondent
experience in NEPA compliance documentation, current
inadequacies a nd adequacies in EAs, selected topical fea-
tures for inclusion in EAs, a nd potential implementation
of BPPs for EA s. Respondents made 1,689 comments in
addition to the standard responses to the topical questions.
e sur vey responses represented approximately 5,000
person-years in experience, established by considering the
midpoint between the four experience ranges (1.5, 6.5, 15,
and 25 years) of the respondents and multiplying them by
the response counts. e steering committee members,
representing about 150 person-years in NEPA-related expe-
rience, aided in the nal ndings.
In addition to the questionnaire responses, the steering
committee considered statutes, regulations, a nd ca se law
in the delineation of inadequacies and adequacies of EAs
to establish the initial categories of delineated BPPs. e
steering committee also reviewed certain federal agency
guidance and peer-reviewed literature. e steering com-
3. We wish to express our appreciation for the signicant planning and work
completed by Dr. Larry Canter, David Keys, CEP, and Paul Looney, CEP.
mittee presented their ndings in the nal report in July
2013, documenting the design and development process of
the questionnaire, the survey results, the methods and cri-
teria used to develop the BPP topics, and 15 initial Priority
One BPPs. After discussing the nal report with CEQ, the
NAEP organi zed a second seven-person experienced tea m
to prepare the guida nce for the nal BPPs. e authors of
this Article comprised the second team.
C. Selecting the BPPs
As previously noted, the overarching criterion used to iden-
tify the seven Priority One BPPs for EAs was to base their
selection and development on the knowledge and advice of
NEPA practitioners, specically the 318 NEPA profession-
als who responded to the electronic survey. In addition, the
team applied two specic criteria to identify a nd prioritize
potential BPP topics: (1)the level of emphasis and concern
that the respondents devoted to a topic; and (2)the extent
to which a potential BPP topic was already addressed by
CEQ NEPA regulations and informed by state-level guid-
ance, case law, academic research, and other source s. In
the rst stage of the pilot project, the steering committee
applied these two criteria quantitatively through a ve-
step, systematic, tabulated selection process to produce an
initial 15 Priority One BPP topics. e Article describes
this process in detail. e key features were:
Step 1: Develop topica l categorie s from the responses
to survey question 7, which asked NEPA practit ioners
to identify f eature s ty pically associated with adequate
EAs. e re spondents identie d 535 positive features,
which the stee ring committee col lated into 23 distinct
topica l categories.
Step 2: Compare the 23 topical categories with CEQ
NEPA regulations, case law involving or applicable to EAs,
relevant peer-reviewed research articles, and other use-
ful information sources to delineate those topics already
receiving high levels of emphasis as opposed to other top-
ics in need of increased attention and g uidance. is pro-
cess yielded 18 potential BPP topics representative of those
practice area s not adequately covered by regulations, case
law, or other guidance.
Step 3: Incorporate the results from survey question 6.
is question pre sented a list of ni ne inadequacies that
have historical ly been identied in litigation a nd public
comments and in criticisms of speci c EA s, and asked
the respondents to pr ioritize them. Each of the priori-
tized EA inadequacie s was matched wit h one or more of
the 18 potential BPP topics derived in Step 2, thus cre-
ating an initial priority order based on ra nkings by the
survey respondents.
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.

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