Prof. Mandelker Named to Committee Drafting Environmental Assessment Best Practices Report

Daniel Mandelker, the Howard A. Stamper Professor of Law, has been appointed to a committee of the National Association of Environmental Professionals working to improve the environmental analysis required of federal agencies by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The result of their work will increase transparency and improve public involvement in federally permitted projects with environmental impacts.

Sponsored by the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the committee is drafting a report on Best Practice Principles for Environmental Assessments to guide implementation of NEPA.

NEPA’s goal is to require consideration of the environmental impacts of federal actions and projects. The law’s tool for accomplishing this goal is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which requires government agencies to fully consider the potential environmental risks of proposals for significant projects like highways or airports.

While not all projects are extensive enough to necessitate a full EIS, federal agencies may decide to do an Environmental Assessment to determine if an EIS is necessary or not. The problem is that, to date, guidance for completing the Environmental Assessment has been inadequate.

“As a result, federal agencies have been investing a lot of time and money, often preparing documents that are much longer and more complicated than they need to be. And even with those documents, agencies often face litigation that forces them to justify their decisions,” Mandelker says. “The rules for preparing these documents are not clear, and it is possible for important environmental issues to ‘slip through the cracks.’”

The committee’s goal is to make completing Environmental Assessments timelier, less complicated, more satisfactory, and less costly. “That will make the decision-making process easier and more effective while encouraging public involvement,” Mandelker says. 

Information for the best practices draft report came from federal agencies and others experienced in preparing Environmental Assessments. Mandelker is one of the lawyers on the six-person committee. Other members are engineers, scientists, and environmentalists. Once the committee has completed its work, the draft report will be submitted to the CEQ for review. When final, the best practices report will go to those charged with completing Environmental Assessments.

“I am pleased to be appointed to this committee, and I look forward to being part of the process of improving the implementation of this important environmental statute,” Mandelker says.