Evidence-Based Recommendations for Improving National Environmental Policy Act Implementation

47 COLUMBIA J. ENVTL. L. 273 (Spring 2022)

University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 474

86 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2021 Last revised: 5 Aug 2023

See all articles by John Ruple

John Ruple

University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law

Jamie Pleune

S.J. Quinney College of Law

Erik Heiny

Utah Valley University

Date Written: November 17, 2021

Abstract

The National Environmental Policy Act is the Magna Carta of U.S. environmental law, a topic of intense debate, and the subject of ongoing rulemaking efforts. Prior NEPA scholarship focuses almost exclusively on Environmental Impact Statements, which account for just 1% of all NEPA decisions. Little is known about the other 99% of agency decisions. This is a critical gap in the literature because NEPA compliance involves an estimated 50,000 federal decisions annually. NEPA reform, we believe, should begin with a careful understanding of NEPA practice. To help advance effective NEPA reform we conducted a multivariate statistical analysis of 40,000 NEPA decisions that were completed by the U.S. Forest Service and investigated the factors associated with longer decisionmaking times. Our model accounts for interactions between 3 levels of NEPA analysis, 43 activities involved in these decisions, 9 geographic regions, and the year of project initiation. Contrary to widely held assumptions, our analysis found that a less rigorous level of analysis often fails to deliver faster decisions. Delays, we found, are often caused by factors only tangentially related to the Act, like a lack of experienced staff, budgetary instability, delays receiving information from permit applicants, and compliance with other laws. Improving NEPA efficacy, we argue, should therefore focus on improving agency capacity. This approach, we believe, would best improve the NEPA process and advance NEPA’s mandate to engage with key stakeholders and carefully consider environmental impacts before making decisions.

Suggested Citation

Ruple, John and Pleune, Jamie and Heiny, Erik, Evidence-Based Recommendations for Improving National Environmental Policy Act Implementation (November 17, 2021). 47 COLUMBIA J. ENVTL. L. 273 (Spring 2022), University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 474, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3965925

John Ruple (Contact Author)

University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
801-581-6545 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://law.utah.edu/research/stegner/

Jamie Pleune

S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

Erik Heiny

Utah Valley University ( email )

800 West University Parkway
Orem, UT 84058-5999
United States

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