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Improving the Quality of Environmental Documents (2006)

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Core Principles for Improving the Quality of NEPA Documents
Chapter 3 Content and Process
Chapter 4 Advanced and Specialized Techniques
Chapter 5 Legal Sufficiency of NEPA Documents
Chapter 6 Achieving Continuous Improvement
Resources

Summary

This report documents an initiative of transportation practitioners nationwide to improve the quality of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Environmental Assessments (EAs) written to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In 2003, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) joined forces in an initiative to improve the readability and functionality of the documents prepared for transportation projects in compliance with NEPA.

In 2003 and 2004, an AASHTO, ACEC, and FHWA work group conducted a survey of state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), the engineering consultant community, and the FHWA to assess the current quality of NEPA documents and inform its future activities. Two “environmental document quality” workshops were held in conjunction with the AASHTO Standing Committee on the Environment’s annual meetings in 2004 (Snowbird, UT) and 2005 (Chicago, IL). The workshops provided additional insight on the various opinions and issues related to the preparation of quality NEPA documents for transportation projects.

Based on the findings of the survey and workshops, three task teams were commissioned by the work group to address these three priority issues: 1) the quality and clarity of NEPA documents; 2) the legal sufficiency of NEPA documents; and 3) the training and education related to NEPA and environmental documentation.

This guide documents the efforts of the Quality and Clarity of NEPA Documents Team and the Legal Sufficiency Team. Findings from the Education Team, which will be updated frequently, will be made available through AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence Web site.

The first several chapters of this report address the quality and clarity of NEPA documents. These chapters offer recommendations on ways to improve the quality of NEPA documents by making them more effective, engaging, and useful for the public and decision-makers, including focusing on the needs of reviewing regulatory agencies and the legal community.

The issue of legal sufficiency for transportation-related NEPA documents is addressed in Chapter 5. It is intended to provide state DOTs, engineering consultants, and FHWA with a better understanding of the FHWA legal sufficiency review. It also provides practical advice for improved development of quality and legally adequate NEPA documents.

This document is intended as a resource, not official guidance. It was developed by a group of experienced NEPA, transportation, and environmental professionals and represents the collective thinking of these individuals.

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