NEPA Adaptation and Controversy

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Certification Maintenance

CM | 1.25

You'll learn about:

  • Changes that have been made to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) over the past 46 years

  • The effect of litigation and NEPA

  • How mediation can improve the process

In 1970 the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) established the mandate for federal agencies to produce environmental disclosure documents. Over time, the Council on Environmental Quality has substantially changed environmental reporting requirements. While not all the changes had the desired outcomes, there are some that make the environmental impact statement (EIS) of 2016 a better document than that of 1970.  

Many agencies agree that the requirements of NEPA have resulted in better decisions, and many outside the bureaucracy think that NEPA is a major force in reforming agency decision-making processes. However, the “elephant in the room” for NEPA is litigation. Anti-NEPA criticism argues that complying with NEPA takes too long, is too expensive, and is redundant with other legislation. Lawsuits are resource-intensive—using scarce funds and time on both sides—and cause agencies to act in risk-averse ways to avoid lawsuits. As one Stanford University Law School professor puts it, it results in “over-papering” of the EIS. Further, use of the courts is not a direct way of obtaining the goals of the plaintiff, as advocates do not typically want a different analysis but, rather, a different project outcome.

Examine the 46-year history of NEPA, assess its structure changes, and discuss how mediation can improve the process during this session.


About the Speakers

Belinda Wordlaw
Belinda (Lindy) Wordlaw is a certified planner with a wealth of experience, working with municipal groups since 1999, first at the municipal level in both development and neighborhood planning, and now for a nonprofit agency that focuses on urban sustainability. Since 2004 she has worked to integrate sustainable energy use into mainstream planning processes. In retrospect, it seems obvious: governments need to plan for the future energy use of their communities, just as they consider water use, land use, transportation, and other factors. But Lindy was on the leading edge of educating local leaders about the importance of energy planning, using persistence and diplomacy to build consensus and set the stage for long term sustainability. Starting in 2004, she led the Kane County Energy Solutions project, which predicted growth in Kane County’s energy demand (based on projected population growth and land use changes) and recommended strategies for mitigation. Recent projects have included the Decatur Sustainability Plan, an Oak Park River Forest Baseline Metric Study, the Kane County 2040 Energy Plan, a regional energy analysis for the seven-county planning area of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), and a project that provided energy and emissions profiles to all 276 municipalities in the Chicago metropolitan region. Lindy is currently the Senior Manager of Public Sector Programs at Elevate Energy and oversees energy retrofit work, benchmarking implementation and consultation, and energy/sustainability planning work for buildings and units of local government. She was recently appointed to serve as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois (Chicago) to teach an energy planning and policy graduate course in Fall 2014.

Lisa Schreibman
Lisa Schreibman, AICP, is a planner with more than 20 years in the field. She is currently the Senior Director of Strategic Planning in the Operations Planning Division of New York City Transit. Previously she was the Department of Subways' Director for the #7 Line Extension. She has also worked on a variety of other capital projects including the new fare payment system, electronic security, track, switch and station projects. Between 2000 and 2017, Ms. Schreibman was an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College, CUNY where she taught graduate level courses on environmental reviews, risk in planning and project management. She is equally at home wandering around dense urban neighborhoods and backpacking in National and State Parks.

Diana Mendes
No Bio Available