Earthpace has researched the applicability of digital technologies including satellite remote sensing, geographic information systems, and the Internet to facilitating the environmental impact assessment process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. Earthpace delivered presentations on this topic to the ALI-ABA Course of Study on Environmental Impact Assessment in 2003 and 2001. Download Earthpace's presentation here.
Emerging Technologies to Implement the
National Environmental Policy Act
Advances in technology offer significant opportunities for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) stakeholders to make better decisions and to achieve measurable environmental results. Technologies such as satellite remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and the Web provide powerful tools to help decision makers visualize the earth science, legal, economic, and social considerations necessary to solve complex environmental problems. Effectively applied to real world tasks, functions, operations, and issues, these tools will enable cost-effective data collecting and lead to more protective ecosystem-wide decisions.
As applied to NEPA, these technologies can serve as tools to determine cumulative impact, conduct alternative analysis, monitor projects to ensure compliance with Record of Decision agreements, leverage existing information, act as powerful public information tools, and create efficiencies in information management. The technologies have potential to revolutionize the collection, organization, storage, and distribution of information relevant to the NEPA decision-making process.
Case Example: Web-based GIS as a Decision Tool
The EPA Region 2 Office is currently developing a Web-based program that will allow NEPA practitioners to display relevant information on interactive maps. This tool will use the GIS mapping techniques to help users visualize spatial relationships between sensitive environmental areas and potential sources of contaminants through a user-friendly online program. The program, which is named NEPAssist, will allow users to specify the Zip Code, city and state, or latitude/longitude coordinates of the site of a Federal action and to select from over 25 information parameters (e.g., schools, hospitals, location, Superfund areas, RCRA sites, wetlands, waterbodies, cities, flood zones). The resulting product will be a map showing the relationship between the proposed site and sensitive areas that may affect the EIS/EA. The program is based on existing Web-based applications developed by the EPA, such as "Window to My Environment" and "Enviromapper: Environmental Justice."
NEPAssist will offer users a number of advantages over existing tools. Most importantly, agencies conducting smaller-scale Environmental Assessments (EA) that are not required to be reviewed by the EPA can use NEPAssist to develop an understanding of the environmental features of a potentially impacted area while the project is still in the scoping process and facilitate the identification of possible problem areas. NEPAssist will provide data of interest to many Federal agencies (e.g. highways, national parks, wildlife refuges). Second, the program will identify the specific names of aquifers, wetland assemblages, and impaired waterbodies in the area, so that their Clean Water Act status can be quickly assessed. Third, NEPAssist can serve as a powerful tool for interagency cooperation. Multiple users at different locations can simultaneously access the maps and hold a virtual meeting to discuss EIS/EA project.
Visit the Council for Environmental Quality's NEPAnet