The purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is to include environmental considerations into federal agency planning and action. This is done by providing decision-makers and other stakeholders with information they need to understand any potentially significant environmental impacts resulting from an action. Title 32, CFR Part 651 (HTML PDF) is the Army's NEPA regulation.
The presumption is that decision-makers make better decisions when they have clear information about the consequences and trade-offs associated with taking any given course of action. Giving decision makers this kind of information is the foundation of the Army's decision-making process. The figure points out the similarities between the Army's decision-making process and NEPA. The text that follows discusses the similarities in a little more detail.
Efficiently and effectively informing Army planners and decision-makers will help integrate environmental considerations into the decision-making process.
NEPA procedures must ensure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made, and before actions are taken. NEPA documents must concentrate on the issues that are truly significant to the action in question, rather than amassing needless detail.
The process used in complying with NEPA is very similar to the decision-making process taught to Army leaders for years. The first step in the NEPA process is to receive a mission assignment. If that mission assignment involves the potential for construction, or earth disturbing, or planning on either of those actions, you are now in the NEPA process. Within this step is determining the Purpose and Need, which closely resembles the problem statement.
The second step should be the development of an Initial Scope of Work Planning Package (ISOWPP). An ISOWPP is a draft concept plan that will form the basis of the description of the proposed action and alternatives (DOPAA), which is the heart of the NEPA document and should present an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the proposal and each alternative. The "no action" alternative will be included for objective evaluation. In addition, the ISOWPP process will facilitate internal Army coordination and better Army decisions, reduce preparation time for NEPA documents and improve the underlying administrative records for each action subject to NEPA review. Three example ISOWPP's are listed below.
The third step is to compare and evaluate alternatives. This involves collecting data relating to the proposed action and the alternatives, and then evaluating each alternative by predicting the probable outcome based on the data gathered. The next and final part of this step is to analyze the potential impacts of each alternative course of action.
Step four requires the proponent to compare the potential impacts of each alternative course of action. Another action in this step is to evaluate mitigations needed to address problems that could arise from implementing any of the alternatives.
This is a process that results in a written NEPA document, either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS).
Step five in the process is to staff the document and receive input. First staff among key stakeholders within the Army community: senior staff at the installation, MACOM and IMCOM Region. This is standard decision document staffing, from that you'll get input and feedback from key stakeholders in the action. After internal staffing, you must release the document to the general public for review and comment. This is the one part of the NEPA process that varies significantly from the Army's decision-making process because the general public is involved. The public has 30 days to review and comment on an EA and 45 days to review and comment on an EIS, and you must provide an installation point of contact to receive public input. You must address every comment received from the general public. The comment and the installation's response to comments are included as an appendix or exhibit in the NEPA document.
The final part of this step is to make a decision. The document used to record the decision from an EA is the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI); from an EIS the document is the Record of Decision (ROD).
Step six in the process is to implement the decision, then monitor the results and monitor what, if any, mitigations were implemented along with the preferred alternative.