Helping Communities Participate in the NEPA Scoping Process
By Amy Streitwieser, Staff Attorney
August 21, 2017
In mid-July, I traveled to Louisiana with fellow ELI Gulf Team member Teresa Chan to host three workshops with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition. Held in three different parishes, these workshops were intended to help the community meaningfully participate in the “scoping” process for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion by providing some background on the project, explaining what scoping is, and discussing how the public can participate. Nearly 60 people attended the workshops, where there were lots of lively discussions!
Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project
The diversion project is being proposed by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) as a part of the state’s Coastal Master Plan. As the CPRA describes it, the project is a “large scale, complex ecosystem restoration project” that is intended “to reconnect and re-establish the natural or deltaic sediment deposition process between the Mississippi River and the Barataria Basin by delivering sediment, freshwater, and nutrients to reduce land loss and maintain and sustain wetlands.” The diversion may have significant impacts on the environment and communities near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Scoping Process
Before the CPRA can move forward with the project, it needs various permits and permissions, and needs to consult with different government agencies. That includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). The CPRA has already applied to the Corps for a permit and permissions for the project and, in order to help make its decision, the Corps is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
An EIS is a document that explains an action’s anticipated environmental impacts, looks at alternatives to the proposed action and the impacts of those alternatives, identifies ways in which impacts can be reduced (these are called “mitigation measures”), and gives the public a chance to comment. The steps in developing an EIS are shown below.
Steps in Developing an EIS
As you can see, scoping happens early in the EIS process. Its purpose is to “determin[e] the scope of issues to be addressed” in an EIS. Put another way, it is meant to help the federal agency figure out what issues it will study in depth and what issues it can leave out of the EIS. When an agency starts scoping, it will provide a notice (like this one) that explains the proposed action, and will ask for input from the public and others.
Participating in the Scoping Process
There are many good reasons to participate in scoping. The most important is that scoping is often the first and best chance the public has to give meaningful input on a proposed action. More particularly, scoping is the public’s best opportunity to influence two critical aspects of the EIS: (1) the environmental impacts that will be included in the EIS; and (2) the range of alternative actions that will be considered. Scoping comments should therefore focus on these key topics. (For more information on how to address impacts and alternatives in a scoping comment, see our FAQs on the NEPA Scoping Process.)
How the scoping process is conducted varies, but there will always be an opportunity to submit written comments. (In the case of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, written comments can be submitted until September 5th.) Often, the scoping process will include one or more public meetings where verbal comments can be made.
Public Scoping Meetings in Louisiana
I returned to Louisiana in late July to attend one of the three public scoping meetings for the Mid-Barataria project. During that meeting, I heard presentations about the NEPA process and the proposed project (you can find links to the presentations and other materials from the meeting here). More importantly, I had a chance to catch up with several members of the community who attended our workshops – and who went to the meeting prepared to submit their scoping comments.
As the pace of Gulf restoration accelerates over the coming years and decades, we can expect to see many more opportunities to participate in NEPA scoping – not just in Louisiana, but around the entire Gulf region. That means it’s a good time to familiarize yourself with the process and to get involved when the time comes! Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
If you want to hear more about the scoping process, listen to the “Delta Dispatches” podcast Episode 20: The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, where Teresa and I talk with host Simone Maloz about scoping for the environmental impact statement of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project.