The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act resulted in more than 3,000 Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) projects that required review for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This demanded a previously unparalleled level of effort from the EERE NEPA team and provided the team with the unique opportunity to study the NEPA process applied on a very broad scale. What would be the NEPA “lessons learned” of the Recovery Act?
During the fall of 2011, the EERE NEPA team began an in-depth review of the NEPA process across thousands of Recovery Act projects. The team sought to identify improvements for both large-scale NEPA evaluation efforts as well as those applicable to more typical NEPA efforts. As part of the review, a project-specific lessons-learned questionnaire was distributed to EERE NEPA Compliance Officers, document managers, and contractor support staff. The questionnaire contained 11 questions addressing the NEPA evaluation schedule, content, and process.
The responses allowed the team to develop 35 lessons learned across three main topics including management of the Recovery Act NEPA process, NEPA determinations, and the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. The lessons learned addressed such specifics as implementing reporting requirements early in the process; early training for Project Officers and recipients on basic NEPA requirements; and establishing a clear communications plan amongst all stakeholders. Additionally, it detailed the benefits of using a “model EA” as a starting point and developing a Style Guide for technical terminology to establish consistency in future EAs.
These lessons, along with a detailed analysis of the Recovery Act NEPA process in its entirety, were presented in EERE’s Lessons Learned Report for NEPA Compliance for Recovery Act-Funded Projects.
The EERE NEPA team continues to identify, discuss, and solicit process improvements in the Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance’s Lessons Learned Quarterly Report, available on the DOE website at http://energy.gov/nepa/office-nepa-policy-and-compliance.