Understanding NEPA and Environmental Analyses
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was established in 1969 and is one of the most important laws for protecting our environment. NEPA's basic function is to ensure that all branches of the federal government give proper consideration before implementing any undertaking with the potential for significant effects to natural, cultural and the human environment. The Council on Environmental Quality provides an excellent citizens' guide to understanding the NEPA process and answers to the 40 most common questions about NEPA. This is summarized below as it relates to the PSI and the travel management EIS.
NEPA requires agencies to be informed through good analyses before making a final decision on a proposed action. Agencies are not required to select an environmentally preferable alternative or prohibit adverse environmental effects; however, the decision-makers do need to be informed of the environmental consequences of their decisions. As a result of the 2015 settlement agreement, the PSI will be completing an environmental impact statement (EIS) as part of scoping for their travel management process. What follows are the typical phases an agency would go through when completing an EIS:
- Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS (published in the Federal Register on July 25, 2016)
- Scoping and Public Involvement
- Complete Draft EIS (DEIS)
- Public Involvement in Review and Comment on DEIS
- Complete Final EIS (FEIS)
- Public Availability of FEIS
- Record of Decision
Scoping is the initial phase of NEPA that focuses on:
- Identifying people or organizations who are interested in the proposed action
- Identifying significant issues for analysis in the EIS
- Identifying and eliminating from detailed review those issues that would not be significant or have been adequately covered in prior environmental review
- Determining roles and responsibilities of lead and cooperating agencies
- Demonstrating the relationship between environmental analyses and the agency’s tentative decision-making schedule
The purpose and need identified by the PSI in the NOI explains why travel management is being conducted and serves as the basis for identifying reasonable alternatives. Identifying and evaluating alternative ways of meeting the purpose and need of the proposed action is critical to NEPA analysis and one of the goals of public input during scoping.
The PSI as the lead federal agency must objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives (those that substantially meet the agency’s purpose and need) and briefly discuss the reasons for having eliminated other alternatives from detailed study. The alternatives evaluation should allow for comparison of the related environmental effects. Further, PSI must analyze the full range of direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the reasonable alternatives identified in the DEIS. This includes ecological, aesthetic, historical, cultural, economic, social, or health impacts, whether adverse or beneficial. These analyses in the DEIS and FEIS would form the basis for the responsible official—the Forest Supervisor (currently Erin Connelly at the PSI)—to issue a Record of Decision and conclude the NEPA process.