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I Worked With the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — Here's What I Learned

After a year of intensive graduate school coursework at Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy (CEP), I interned with ManTech International Corporation, a technology and innovation company that does contract consulting work primarily for the U.S. military.

I worked in the environmental department and assisted project managers write and research for Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for military actions.

I thought the environmental field had a lot of acronyms, but, environmental work combined with military jargon meant my emails looked like alphabet soup.

Eventually I got the hang of it and one of my favorite acronyms I learned is FYSA, which stands for “for your situational awareness”. If you care about the environment and democracy, you should be “situationally aware” of NEPA. This law defined my whole internship experience. It’s a beast!

NEPA requires the military and all federal agencies (such as the Forest Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, etc) to research, identify, and analyze the impacts of a proposed action (such as a permit application, federal land management action, construction project, etc) before making a decision. Under the NEPA process, agencies put together documents (Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements) that evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. There is also an opportunity for the public to review and comment on those evaluations. 

A few of the Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments that sit on the shelves of the office.

Environmental Policy Requires a Systematic, Interdisciplinary Approach

There’s a lot to say about the act itself and I learned much of it during my Environmental Law class last fall. However, my internship has been relevant to more than just my Environmental Law class– an important aspect of NEPA’s policy is that it promotes a systematic, interdisciplinary analysis of environmental issues. NEPA required documents are typically huge and the relevant resource chapters can range from biological assessments, environmental justice, water resources, to recreation (to name a few). Therefore, I’ve utilized the skills and knowledge from my interdisciplinary classes at Bard CEP.

One of the NEPA documents I worked on is an Environmental Impact Statement for the modernization of a Navy training complex in Nevada. A few examples of the resource chapters (there are 13 total) included analyzing impacts to Airspace, Land Use, and Cultural Resources.

No Typical Day for a NEPA Intern

Within a single project I had different responsibilities for different resource chapters, but, during my internship, I also helped with multiple projects. I enjoyed being involved in several projects at once because it allowed me to solidify what I learned during my first-year coursework in the Master's in Environmental Policy program and exposed me to new skills and subjects. No week was the same. My responsibilities ranged from research, editing, writing, to data organization, and more. Here are some representative examples of specific projects and tasks I worked on:

  • Compiled and organized GIS data of marine mammal surveys in the Pacific Ocean to help determine potential mitigation areas for the U.S. Navy.
  • Edited a supporting EIS document that modeled the economic impacts of a proposed modernization of a Navy training and testing complex in Nevada on the surrounding counties. The document was technical and I edited it to ensure the information was correct, the analysis was understandable, and for general flow and presentation.
  • Researched and read scholarly articles about sonic booms effects on cultural resources to determine reasonable thresholds for the proposed expansion of aerial training and testing as part of the modernization project in Nevada.
  • Participated in the public involvement process for a proposed Naval pier construction project in California. I helped identify and contact stakeholders, prepared materials for public meetings, and responded to public comments.

Environmental Impact Statements Are for the Public. Get Involved!

Maybe it’s already apparent but the NEPA process is tedious and complicated… it requires a lot of interdisciplinary research, public relations, and agency deliberation. However, most importantly, it is a democratic process. While there is a ton of time and effort that goes into creating these documents, the keystone is the public’s participation!

FYSA: These decisions are not something that occurs in secret – the EPA will publish a “Notice of Availability” in the Federal Register when NEPA Environmental Assessments and Impact Statements are available for comment during their draft and final phases. It gives the public an opportunity to voice their concern and promotes transparency. I encourage everyone to get involved, especially those with a background in environmental science and policy. Here’s a link to Environmental Impact Statements currently available for comment. Check it out – there may even be some I’ve contributed to!

This blog post was originally published on the CEP Eco Reader. It has been lightly edited for clarity. Photo credits: ManTech.

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