How does the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) process more than 3,000 new projects - many with subawards - generated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) to meet the compliance standards of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)? How can this be done quickly and efficiently so that projects can get underway and Recovery Act funds can be put into the economy as soon as possible? How is project status reported across various offices in a timely manner? These were just some of the challenges facing the EERE NEPA team as they began this herculean effort in 2009.
In two years, the DOE NEPA team was able to address all these questions and more. By the end of September 2011, the team’s efforts resulted in 9,300 categorical exclusion determinations, the preparation of 70 environmental assessments (EAs) and the adoption of one environmental impact statement. To date, NEPA compliance issues have been addressed at a median time and cost 40 percent lower than other DOE EAs. This was accomplished by implementing a detailed project management plan to include a resource-loaded master schedule, project-specific teams, and an inventory of projects used for tracking and status updates.
From the very beginning, the NEPA team was forced to assess its existing processes and quickly concluded that the old methods were simply not sufficient for the scale of activity generated by the Recovery Act. The existing process was complicated by the need to move projects through the NEPA process as quickly as possible, while still maintaining the required level of due diligence. Timely reporting on the release of project funding to senior DOE and White House personnel, who were closely monitoring Recovery Act spending, was met through the project inventory where the status of each project was monitored weekly for changes to schedule, scope and budget, and then reported to DOE management.
Scott E. Hine, Director of the EERE Office of Project Management Evaluation and head of the NEPA Core Management team summed up the importance of the project communication plan as follows: “Constant tracking and communication of Recovery Act NEPA work ensured that all levels of program leadership were made aware of the NEPA status of their projects, which enabled them to effectively manage an unparalleled amount of highly visible work in a limited time frame and with limited resources. “Without close coordination between programs and DOE leadership, the enormous undertaking of the Recovery Act NEPA evaluations would not have been possible.
While the majority of the NEPA evaluations were completed by the fall of 2011, the EERE NEPA team continues to hold quarterly reviews with each EERE technology program to discuss specific NEPA issues for their suite of projects. The team also circulates a biweekly report on ongoing EAs throughout EERE.