Achieving NEPA Assignment—4 ways the right consultant is critical to reaching this goal
August 02, 2018
August 02, 2018
NEPA Assignment offers many benefits to a state agency, but how can you prepare for the application, execution, and implementation?
Many of you in the transportation or environmental services industries have likely heard of the NEPA Assignment program. I’ve been following the issue from the beginning, when five states were allowed to assume the United States Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other Federal environmental laws. Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21) opened this program up to all states.
And that’s when I got personally involved. Due to my established relationship with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), they asked me to research the NEPA Assignment program, interview other DOTs that already had NEPA Assignment to identify their best practices and develop a strategy for moving forward with an application, Memorandum of Understanding, and eventual implementation of the program. I’m proud to say that on December 14, 2016, after two years or research and preparation, Florida became the fourth state to implement this national program.
What I discovered may help your state simplify the arduous journey of obtaining NEPA Assignment. But let’s first examine the highlights of why NEPA Assignment could benefit your state’s organization. Highlights include:
Many state DOTs understand the benefits of obtaining NEPA Assignment. The real question is twofold: How can you manage the application process, and is a consultant important to your success? I would advise hiring a professional to help you organize and manage the process. Here’s what the team and I did to help FDOT achieve NEPA Assignment:
We interviewed other states on best practices and lessons learned from not only the application process but also the implementation of the program, including getting ready for the annual audits in the first four years. It’s important to understand the legal considerations and responsibilities once your organization secures NEPA Assignment.
It’s not enough to decide that the program is right for you. It’s necessary to examine your organization’s staffing, record keeping, and current environmental review process to ensure you have the financial and organizational resources in place to assume the responsibilities being requested. Remember, your state’s DOT is assuming FHWA’s role as environmental decision-maker.
My team worked on the pre-application requirements and application, and the Memorandum of Understanding, which was a two-year process. We also monitored any legislative changes and collaborated with the FHWA to ensure the final submittal and documentation was correct. I also want to stress the importance of selecting a consultant that brings strong relationships with state and federal agencies—communication and collaboration is a key to success.
After NEPA Assignment is secured, there is a requirement to conduct an audit for the first four years of the program to ensure compliance. That’s where your consultant can provide guidance and statewide training on the new program. In our case, we also updated FDOT manuals and assisted FDOT with expanding their training program.
Our team was essential in helping FDOT evaluate, assess readiness, apply, and successfully implement the program.
Our team was essential in helping FDOT evaluate, assess readiness, apply, and successfully implement the program. This process included evaluating current processes and systems, conducting staff assessments, and recommending organizational changes.
We anticipate when FDOT moves into the monitoring phase, we will have similar success as other states that have implemented NEPA Assignment—California, Texas, and Ohio. California achieved NEPA Assignment in 2007 and has completed their FHWA audits. They are the only state currently in the monitoring phase, and the benefits they’ve seen include:
Obtaining NEPA Assignment can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to face it alone. Selecting a consultant to work with you through every aspect of the process is an essential component to not merely submitting a successful application but to ongoing compliance.