White House Says Online Tools Will Improve NEPA Environmental Review Process

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

The U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have developed online tools to improve environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced.

The tools allow the public to submit comments on NEPA reviews online and improve the ability of regulators to coordinate reviews and share documents pertaining to projects under consideration, CEQ said in the Aug. 31 announcement.

The tools are the first to be announced under a pilot program to improve the NEPA review process, which was announced in March (53 DEN A-5, 3/18/11).

“Deploying these IT tools and others like them will promote faster and more effective federal decisions on projects that create jobs, grow our economy, and protect the health and environment of our communities,” CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said in a statement.

Agencies Developed Tools

In its project nomination, the Forest Service said the electronic Modernization of NEPA (eMNEPA) system allows the public to submit comments online, automating a “burdensome and historically paper-intensive processes.” The automated system can also scan comments for key words such as requests for deadline extensions to prepare comments, highlighting those that need to be addressed immediately.

The National Park Service said in its nomination form that the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) system improves the ability of various agencies participating in a NEPA review to share documents and coordinate timelines. It coordinates and collects the various documents in a single publicly searchable database. Additionally, the system allows federal agencies to share important updates on the review process through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, told BNA Sept. 1 the initiatives are examples of federal agencies collaborating on common tools to improve public service.

“It meets all three criteria of the open government initiative: transparency, participation, and collaboration,” he said.

By Andrew Childers