The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that the agency proposing an action is the one to write the environmental impact statement (EIS). This approach enables actions that can weaken the value of the NEPA process. While there may be some beneficial aspects of this approach, it only exacerbates one of the primary weaknesses of NEPA.
NEPA is a procedural statute where the integrity of the decision-maker determines the effectiveness of its use (Reitze 2019, 214). Situations where the president and heads of federal agencies are not interested in the environmental concerns of a project can lead to scenarios where the creation of the EIS does not change their pre-planned efforts. For example, President Trump and his appointed agency leads were focused on fossil fuel production and had no concerns for climate related issues (Reitze 2019, 214). By requiring that the agency proposing the action is the one writing the EIS, it allows agencies the opportunity to follow the procedural aspects of NEPA but does not ensure that environmental concerns or inherent biases in analysis are addressed in ways that actually prohibit an agency taking environmentally detrimental actions. Similar to quality control measures in project management, a third-party investigator or consultant would be better at reducing bias, ensuring accuracy of information, and minimizes interpersonal or political conflicts (Callen 2022).
However, allowing an agency to perform their own analysis can be useful in many ways. First off, it is easier to determine who is responsible for creating the report and any roadblocks that may occur. This helps keep any litigation issues much clearer. Typically, the costs are lower for an agency to manage the compliance reporting when compared to contracting out those services. Also, an agency has more intimate knowledge of all the rules, reasons, and availability of information on the specific projects they are focusing on. However, an experienced outside consultant can easily get up to speed on those issues, especially if they become used to serving agencies in those respects. In the long run, that could lead to reduced costs from business competition instead of relying on slow moving and often non-innovative government agencies.
A potentially more appropriate approach that could help strengthen NEPA would be to form an agency that performs the reviews for other agencies. In this way, expertise could be built within government to manage these more holistically. An auditing agency would also be able to have a more structured approach and procedural system for undertaking reporting requirements that could help streamline the process. The funding could come from the agencies that need to comply with NEPA to ensure that the auditing agency would be funded appropriately for the work needed. The Trump Administration was a prime example of the weaknesses that are inherent in NEPA’s approach. If leadership is not concerned for environmental issues like climate change, there is no way for NEPA to avoid inconsistent agency reviews if they are requiring that the agencies review themselves (Reitze 2019, 214-217).
Author: Logan Callen
Callen, Logan. 2022. “Project Audits.” Riskless Review. May 18. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://riskless.review/898/project-audits/.
Reitze, Arnold W. Jr. 2019. “Dealing with Climate Change Under the National Environmental Policy Act.” Utah Law Faculty Scholarship 165. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://dc.law.utah.edu/scholarship/165/.