April 22, 2023

Earth Day: Environmental Stewardship through NEPA

Happy Earth Day! Today marks the 53rd annual celebration to honor the achievements of the environmental movement and raise awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources for future generations. This year’s theme is “Invest in our Planet,” reminding everyone of the necessity to protect our planet to best pave a path towards a prosperous future. At Lochmueller Group, our Environmental Division has our planet at top of mind at all times; they continuously find creative solutions to balance the needs of both the human and natural environments in every project they complete, including the impact on plant and animal species.

One environmental regulation that our Environmental team answers to on a regular basis is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).This act, which was signed into law on January 1, 1970, requires federal agencies to assess the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. NEPA covers actions such as making decisions on permit applications, adopting federal land management actions, and constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities.

Environmental review under NEPA can involve three different levels of analysis:

• Categorial Exclusion (CE) determination

• Environmental Assessment (EA)

• Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

To be considered “categorically excluded” from a detailed environmental analysis, a federal action may be deemed to not have a significant effect on the human environment. If a federal agency determines that a CE does not apply to a proposed action, then they prepare an EA. The EA determines whether or not a federal action has the potential to cause significant environmental effects, generally including a brief discussion of:

• The purpose and need for the proposed action

• Alternatives

• The environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives

• A listing of agencies and persons consulted

Based on the EA, if the agency determines that the federal action will not have significant environmental impacts, the agency will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). On the contrary, if the EA determines that the environmental impacts of a proposed federal action will significantly affect the quality of the human environment, then an EIS is prepared, which is more detailed and rigorous than the requirements of an EA.

The EIS process, although long, is necessary to ensure adverse effects are properly mitigated. The EIS is a more detailed environmental review focused on specific projects and improvements. This process also allows the public to be involved in the environmental analysis through review and comments; the final published EIS provides responses to the public’s substantive comments. To conclude, the Record of Decision (ROD) is issued, which explains the agency’s decision, describes the alternatives considered, and discusses the agency’s plans for mitigation and monitoring if necessary.

The extensive NEPA process does not just protect the big new highways, but it also ties into what you are seeing done in your community: roads, publicly-owned facilities like power plants, landfill sites, and more. Through NEPA and with the help of our Environmental team, trees and plants, animal species, and people are protected. We understand the importance of that to protect and invest in our planet and the communities we serve. To learn more about our Environmental Services, visit our website.

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