What is NEPA? | UPR Utah Public Radio

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A proposed development project goes through a detailed process to receive approval and determine its potential environmental impacts. The assessment of these impacts is done through the National Environmental Policy Act, usually referred to as NEPA.

“It’s basically a pros and cons analysis. I know sometimes people sit down when they’re making a decision and say, Well, if I’ve decided this way, then that’s what’s going to happen. And it will be fine. And if I, it could happen, and it wouldn’t be so good. And if I make this other decision, it will be a little different that way.

Stephanie Howard is the NEPA and GIS Branch Manager for the Vernal Field Office in the Green River District of Utah’s Bureau of Land Management.

There are different types of NEPA assessments carried out for different scales of projects. However, they all follow the same steps: identifying the project objective and potential alternatives, called necessary objectives, exploring the environmental impacts of the project and alternatives, and finally, determining the project’s end results or environmental effects.

Howard explained that there are actually three levels of NEPA depending on the scope of the project, ranging from low impact and routine to potentially severe impact.

“There’s the categorical exclusion, which is for very common projects, there’s an environmental assessment, these are slightly more complicated documents where we haven’t done a lot, or we just haven’t done a lot of it. categorical exclusion for them though… and then the third type of document we have is an environmental impact statement.

An Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, is a detailed assessment of environmental impacts that is conducted when a project is likely to significantly change the environment. Complicated proposals or those that may impact sensitive species, such as the Utah Lake Dredging and Development Project and the Willow Lakes residential development in South Logan, often require an EIA.

To make the process more transparent, the findings of the SIA should be open for public comment for 45 days before the statement is finalized.

Throughout the NEPA process, there are 3 different periods for collecting public feedback, Howard said.

“we need to make sure that the public has an adequate chance to weigh in, and that we understand their questions and take their information into account”

The first opportunity for public participation is called the scoping period. It works like a brainstorming session where multiple agencies and the public can suggest data to feed into the decision, alternative options or impacts to consider. Then there’s the public comment period where an agency, like the BLM, releases a document that includes all the information from the scoping period for the public to review and comment on.

“And we will take their comments from this comment period, revise the document into a final version, and then write a decision. And we will publish this final document, with or without the decision to the public. Howard explained.

And then the last period is either an appeal or a protest where the public has a third chance to review the document and comment.

Few NEPA proposals are rejected outright, but when they are, Howard said there are a handful of reasons.

“One of them is that we lack funding, one of them is that it does not meet the mission or some other management objectives that we have. Sometimes we don’t have the staff to complete a project. And sometimes the project just isn’t a priority.

If the project ultimately fails to meet the BLM’s goals or presents insurmountable obstacles, the BLM will issue a no-action decision, which means it will not proceed.

Current EIS are open for public comment in Utah:
https://cdxapps.epa.gov/cdx-enepa-II/public/action/eis/search;jsessionid=FE343AC2DA93C56A8D9A6920B77352DD?search=&__fsk=1714277247#results

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