Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance

Making the Most of Mitigation

September 2, 2014

You are here

The current site-wide approach for long-term protection of LANL’s threatened and endangered species originated from the 1995 discovery of a nesting pair of Mexican spotted owls near a proposed explosives testing facility. (See LLQR, June 1999, page 1.) (Photo: Chuck Hathcock, Wildlife Biologist, LANL Environmental Protection Division)

The current site-wide approach for long-term protection of LANL’s threatened and endangered species originated from the 1995 discovery of a nesting pair of Mexican spotted owls near a proposed explosives testing facility. (See LLQR, June 1999, page 1.) (Photo: Chuck Hathcock, Wildlife Biologist, LANL Environmental Protection Division)

By Karen Oden, NEPA Compliance Officer, Los Alamos Field Office

The Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) uses a comprehensive Mitigation Action Plan (MAP) to monitor and manage commitments to mitigate adverse environmental impacts associated with the 2008 Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (DOE/EIS-0380) and multiple project-specific EISs and environmental assessments (EAs). A MAP describes the plan for implementing commitments made in an EIS record of decision (ROD) to mitigate adverse environmental impacts, or mitigation commitments that are essential to render the impacts of a proposed action not significant. The DOE NEPA Order requires a publicly available annual report on progress made in implementing mitigation commitments and the effectiveness of the mitigation. (See Key Requirements Involving Mitigation, pages 5-6.)

Reorganizing the MAP Annual Report

The first NEPA document I reviewed as a new DOE employee at LAFO was a draft of the MAP Annual Report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. I was amazed by the range of the commitments by the LAFO NEPA program and the complexity of the LANL mission activities. I had many questions and realized that the MAP Annual Report could be a more useful tool if restructured using a consistent outline for each mitigation commitment:

  • Why are we doing it?
  • What we are trying to achieve?
  • What actions were taken?
  • Are the actions effective?
  • Should we continue doing it?

The purpose of tracking mitigation is to ensure that DOE and LANL follow through on commitments to minimize, avoid, or compensate for the adverse impacts of an action and, furthermore, to examine whether mitigation measures are effective and efficient. The reorganized MAP Annual Report for FY 2013 (issued in January 2014) first discusses each mitigation action in the body of the report and then summarizes all actions in a tracking table that also identifies the responsible organization. The FY 2013 MAP Annual Report answers a series of questions:

NEPA and Other Drivers: Which NEPA document, DOE Order, regulation, or program did the mitigation
commitment come from?
Mitigation: What is the purpose and goal of each mitigation commitment?
Action Taken: What steps were taken during the past year?
Effectiveness: Was the mitigation effective?
Recommendation: Should the mitigation be continued, modified, or discontinued?

Analysis of Data To Evaluate Effectiveness

Analysis, not just the reporting of data, is essential for a MAP Annual Report to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation activities and make recommendations. For example, knowing the significance threshold for each type of impact may be necessary. In some cases, a significant impact to a resource is a quantifiable threshold or objective standard based in regulation. For others, a subject matter expert’s professional judgment is used to determine significance. In any case, the NEPA document should describe the impact threshold against which the mitigation’s effectiveness can be measured.

Numerous mitigation actions have been completed at LANL. When a mitigation commitment has been fully implemented, it is added to a summary table in the MAP Annual Report with a justification for no longer tracking it as ongoing. When a mitigation commitment is integrated into an established LANL environmental management program, such as the Habitat Management Plan or the Air Monitoring Program, it, too, is no longer tracked in the MAP Annual Report, but is included in the summary table.

Revising the MAP

After restructuring the MAP Annual Report for FY 2013, LAFO revisited the MAP itself. This MAP was developed in the 1990s and had been updated in 2008 after the first ROD for the Site-Wide EIS. The MAP was revised to incorporate mitigation commitments made in the second (2009) ROD for the 2008 Site-Wide EIS, and then for a 2010 EA and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) on the expansion of two LANL facilities. The MAP also covers commitments to Santa Clara Pueblo as part of ongoing government-to-government relations. The MAP describes the implementation and management steps for LAFO and LANL organizations. The process includes task scoping, funding allocation, tracking, technical implementation, annual reporting, and mitigation action commitment closure.

We revised the MAP to update the commitments and reflect the improved approach developed for the MAP Annual Report. For each program or project in its scope, the MAP now summarizes the objective, identifies the NEPA and other drivers, and lists the specific mitigation commitments. The final section lists mitigation commitments previously included in the MAP that have been completed or integrated into ongoing LANL programs. The revised MAP (just 15 pages) was issued in June 2014. Any mitigation commitments described in future RODs or FONSIs will be incorporated into this MAP.

For more information, contact me at karen.oden@nnsa.doe.gov or 505-667-0886. (The DOE NEPA Website maintains a webpage for MAPs and MAP Annual Reports. See also related article, page 17.) 

Editor’s note: Karen Oden (see Transitions, page 18), an Environmental Engineer and Project Management Professional, has spent most of her 25-year career working for the Department of Defense and credits the Five-Year Site Review process under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act as the model for making the FY 2013 MAP Annual Report more effective and informative. She also acknowledges the contributions of Phillip Noll, Ph.D., an Environmental Scientist with the LANL Environmental Protection Division, who is responsible for overseeing the LANL mitigation program.