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Air Force issues guidance to streamline environmental reviews

  • Published
  • By Chad Starr
  • Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment Public Affairs
In order to get "back to basics" and the original intent of National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Air Force recently issued new program guidance entitled "Planning Requirements for the Environmental Impact Analysis Process."

The program will help Air Force installations, major commands, proponents and other environmental planning functions streamline their assessments of potential environmental impacts mandated by the NEPA before they take proposed actions.

PREIAP was developed by the Environmental Planning Center of Excellence at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment here to support the "back to basics" initiative by Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics Terry Yonkers.

"PREIAP is the Air Force's internal scoping process to improve coordination and reduce the time required to prepare formal NEPA documentation in an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement," said Charles Brown, a NEPA subject matter expert at AFCEE. "It simply promotes the early engagement of those involved in developing the scope of the environmental impact analyses and NEPA documentation early in the process."

A fundamental premise of the Air Force's environmental impact analysis process is that decision makers fulfill the responsibilities of the proponent of the action. The proponent must articulate what the action is and the viable alternatives to the preferred action. A proponent is defined as any office, unit or activity that proposes to initiate an action that could have an effect on the human environment.

"Done properly, the mission will be accomplished and the planning and decisions will reflect environmental values," Mr. Yonkers stated in directing the new guidance. "Delays later in the process will be avoided and potential conflicts will be precluded."

PREIAP was developed to provide decision makers with timely, succinct and quality analyses, said Mr. Brown, adding the development of PREIAP was a concerted effort among the Environmental Planning Center of Excellence, the Air Force Civil Engineer Planning Division's Basing Branch, installation NEPA practitioners and the legal community.

"The main modification to the existing NEPA analysis process used by the Air Force is the use of PREIAP to help facilitate more effective and meaningful communications among key stakeholders early in the review process," Mr. Brown said. "The proponent of an action can avoid costly mistakes and delays to their project by determining up front if the proposed action requires any special study requirements such as noise, endangered species or cultural resources; or the involvement of external parties such as the general public or tribal agencies."

PREIAP standardizes approaches and emphasizes early interdisciplinary planning, promoting coordination and implementing consistent processes to achieve timely decisions on Air Force proposals.

The goal of PREIAP is to help accelerate the formal NEPA review process to six months or less for environmental assessments and 12 months for environmental impact statements.

The proponents of a proposal are best suited to know what they want to do and what the viable alternatives are to achieve the mission.

"While the environmental staffs can assist in developing the description of the proposed action and alternatives, the proponent's active participation and engagement during the initial planning and all stages of the environmental impact analysis process is vital," Mr. Brown said.

The Air Force is implementing several changes to improve the NEPA compliance program. The Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment also established an Environmental Planning Center of Excellence to provide centralized NEPA expertise to support implementation of PREIAP and a broad range of other Air Force environmental goals and initiatives.

Individuals on a ".mil" domain can access the new PREIAP guidance and other current information on the EIAP page on the Air Force A7C eDASH website at Guidance 2011 May.pdf.