What is the Existing Framework for NEPA Assessment?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of major federal actions that will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Agencies must consider the environmental consequences of proposed actions or projects, evaluate possible alternatives, and disclose information to the public before they issue final permits or other approvals.
In practice, NEPA assessments relate to actions that occur in many different locations. They have substantially varying scopes and encompass a multitude of environmental, economic, and social factors. These assessments garner vast quantities of data about the human environment, and each assessment must consider the potential cumulative impacts of other activities – those that have already taken place, those that are ongoing, and those forthcoming.
While NEPA processes may generate or synthesize a vast amount of information, there is currently no single system for gathering and presenting the assessments (or their underlying data sets) in an easily accessible format. It can be difficult to locate a specific review, depending on the lead agency and/or type of document (e.g., Environmental Impact Statement versus Environmental Assessment). Further, it can be difficult to identify simultaneously occurring actions and/or assessments in an area. This hinders the ability of the public and resource managers to effectively use the important information within NEPA documents.