The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) reported to Congress on August 3, 2009, on the NEPA status of more than 79,000 projects and activities receiving funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). As of June 30, 2009, Federal departments and agencies had completed more than 70,000 categorical exclusion determinations, 1,600 environmental assessments (EAs), and 840 EISs related to Recovery Act projects and activities and had determined that NEPA is not applicable to almost 2,000 other projects and activities. Still pending for these 79,000 projects were almost 6,800 expected categorical exclusion determinations, 3,500 EAs, and 100 EISs.
The CEQ report includes 156 DOE Recovery Act projects – three times the number included in the first report, which CEQ submitted to Congress on May 18. As of June 30, DOE had completed more than 170 NEPA reviews for all or part of 68 projects and determined that NEPA reviews are not required for another eight projects. This effort supported the obligation of more than $6.6 billion of Recovery Act funding in areas such as weatherization, environmental cleanup, and science.
Agencies Addressing NEPA Quickly
CEQ wrote that, “As the [May and August] reports show, many agencies have ‘shovel ready’ projects which have completed environmental analyses and are fully permitted, approved, and ready for implementation. For any projects and activities for which necessary environmental analyses and permits or approvals have not been completed, agencies are expeditiously addressing their compliance requirements.”
The August report describes NEPA compliance for projects expected to receive more than $97 billion in funding. More than $45 billion of this total was obligated by the Department of Education for formula grants to states, for which NEPA review is not required. “Overall, the progress that departments and agencies have reported indicates that NEPA analyses are informing decisions for expenditure of [Recovery Act] funds in an environmentally sound manner,” CEQ noted.
CEQ also highlighted steps by agencies to implement NEPA efficiently. “Several agencies are using programmatic NEPA reviews to address similar projects and activities, to facilitate implementation of individual projects and activities either by providing full NEPA compliance or programmatically addressing common environmental issues, thereby eliminating the need to replicate the review of those issues,” CEQ wrote.
DOE Making Progress, Much Work Ahead
The tripling in the number of DOE Recovery Act projects between the May and August reports reflects progress by DOE Program Offices in completing the approval process for the allotment of funding. The status of NEPA compliance varies among these projects. Most Office of Environmental Management Recovery Act projects rely on pre-existing NEPA reviews and so are reported as complete in the CEQ report. The Office of Science had completed NEPA reviews for almost half of its projects by June 30, primarily by reviewing existing NEPA documents and applying categorical exclusions.
The bulk of NEPA reviews pending as of June 30 are related to applications received in response to funding opportunity announcements issued by DOE. Thousands of applications were received in late June and additional applications are expected through the summer. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is responsible for most of these, including applications for the State Energy Program and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (related article, page 1). Funding opportunities also have been initiated by the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Loan Guarantee Program Office. The Western Area Power Administration and Bonneville Power Administration also are expected to identify projects that will require NEPA review.
Future Reports To Explain Pending Actions
The next CEQ report to Congress will cover NEPA activities through September 30, 2009. DOE and other Federal agencies are required to submit their agency reports to CEQ by October 15, and CEQ will submit its report to Congress on November 2. The report will continue the cumulative update of the status of NEPA actions to implement the Recovery Act. In addition, CEQ has asked agencies to explain the status of pending NEPA actions. At a meeting of Federal agency NEPA contacts on August 25, Horst Greczmiel, CEQ Associate Director for NEPA Oversight, noted that NEPA actions that remain pending on multiple reports will be scrutinized. Section 1609(c)* of the Recovery Act requires quarterly reports on NEPA activities related to implementing the Recovery Act through September 30, 2011. The CEQ reports to Congress are available at www .nepa.gov. For more information, contact Brian Costner, DOE Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-586-9924.