Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Collaboration is Rewarded
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There are many different definitions of success.
For EPA, our successes are usually defined in terms of “environmental outcomes.” Sometimes those outcomes are easy to quantify: reducing impacts to wetlands by 60 acres, or encouraging a federal agency to perform $5 million in coral reef habitat restoration.
But some successes can’t really be quantified. These include improved relationships between agencies, and tools that help agencies more effectively achieve positive environmental outcomes.
A great example of such a success was recognized by the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) this week at their annual conference. The Region 9 Environmental Review Office, the California Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) have been chosen for an “NAEP 2008 National Environmental Excellence Award” for 2 jointly-prepared guidance documents.
The guidance documents, Guidance for Preparers of Cumulative Impact Analysis and Guidance for Preparers of Growth-related, Indirect Impact Analyses were produced through a collaborative partnership from 2004 to 2006. Ultimately, these documents will contribute to consistency and creativity in addressing some of the most complicated and potentially unintended environmental consequences of major transportation projects.
The three agencies involved, who sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of the table when it comes to determining the environmental impacts of transportation projects, found common ground in their desire to improve the analysis of cumulative and growth-related indirect impacts for transportation projects in California.
A cumulative impact is defined as the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of an action when added to other past, present, and likely future actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.
Growth-related, indirect impacts are those effects caused by an action, but occurring later in time or farther removed in distance, from its direct effects. Indirect effects may include growth-inducing effects and other effects related to changes in the pattern of land use, population density or growth rate, and related effects on air and water and other natural systems, including ecosystems.
Given the amount of growth taking place in California and other states in the west, analyzing both cumulative and indirect impacts is critical for better understanding the effects of projects on environmental resources. For example, large commercial or residential developments often require that highway infrastructure be built or expanded to support them. On the opposite side of the coin, new highways often provide better access to areas, encouraging more development. All of these actions have impacts on environmental resources, such as wetlands and wildlife habitat, which should be considered comprehensively.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed federal projects which could significantly affect the environment. EPA’s Environmental Review Office reviews these projects, which include proposed highways, airports, mines, residential developments, military complexes, energy facilities, and railroads. NEPA requires that both cumulative and indirect impacts be analyzed, along with direct impacts that a project may have on the environment.
The team of EPA, FHWA, and Caltrans produced the guidance documents to offer methods for dealing with these challenging issues. The objectives of producing the guidance were threefold:
- To reduce project delays by ensuring that a complete environmental analysis is performed “the first time around,”
- To protect and enhance the environment by ensuring that analyses identify the true impacts to resources and subsequently provide appropriate mitigation for those impacts, and
- To enhance coordination and build positive relationships between agencies.
Both guidance documents provide a step-by-step approach for analyzing complex environmental issues in a consistent and comprehensive manner and offer a practical, “how-to” approach to cumulative and growth-related impact analysis. They provide federal agencies, local government, and the public with a clear set of expectations about when and how to perform these analyses.
The collaborative effort of developing the guidance documents built trust between the partnering agencies and has greatly enhanced the ability of practitioners to develop feasible strategies to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts from transportation projects. The new guidance can also be broadly applied, both to non-transportation projects and to projects outside of California. Both documents are now available online for practitioners to refer to when assessing the environmental impacts of their projects.
The award for the development of these tools was presented at the NAEP (National Association of Environmental Professionals) Conference in San Diego, CA, which was held on March 25-28, 2008. In 2007, the Guidance documents also received a Federal Highway Administration Environmental Excellence Award.
California Department of Transportation
Cindy Adams | Marilee Mortenson | Larry Bonner
Federal Highway Administration, Califormia Division
Maiser Khaled | Stephanie Stoermer
Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9
Nancy Levin | Nova Blazej | Michael Monroe
Karen Bahus Technical Writing & Research
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