Importance of Expertise in NEPA Federal Permitting

Importance of Expertise in NEPA Federal Permitting image
  • Share:

When the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970, it was the first major environmental law enacted in the United States. Since that time, NEPA has ensured that agencies consider and disclose the environmental effects of a proposed project.

NEPA applies to federal actions such as establishing or updating land management plans, programs, and policies, as well as specific projects. The law also applies to some private actions, including federal decisions on approvals, permits, or funding. Actions requiring NEPA review are subject to a variety of environmental analyses and documentation before any necessary permits can be issued.

Once a project is proposed, the lead agency, i.e., the federal agency that will approve the proposed plan, or issue the permit, or authorize funding, must determine if NEPA approval is required.

NEPA Lead Agency Responsibilities

For instance, in cases where a project would have a potential adverse effect to a wetland, the lead agency is typically the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  If the proposed project would also have an adverse effect on a threatened or endangered certain species, the USACE as lead agency will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on any needed surveys or actions required to address the adverse effect to that species. 

If a project could have a potential adverse effect on a known historic resource, the U.S. National Park Service will be consulted to evaluate the project’s consistency with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which manages the National Register of Historic Places.

A project may qualify for a categorical exclusion from further review, which is the most streamlined pathway through NEPA, requiring only minimal analysis and documentation. Otherwise, a project would be required to undergo either an Environmental Assessment (EA) which leads to a finding of no significant impact (FONSI), or the preparation of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is the most comprehensive level of review under NEPA.  

Obtaining NEPA Federal Permits

When detailed analyses are required to obtain federal permits, many developers opt to bring in assistance from an experienced environmental consulting firm. These firms can coordinate the required studies and data using a team of experts that can include biologists, plant ecologists, archeologists, and more.

Consultants may also aid in developing the EA or EIS to assess the project’s environmental consequences, explore potential alternatives, and address any public comments. Based on the EA or EIS findings, the lead agency will decide whether to approve the project, allowing the applicant to move forward with preparation of any required regulatory permit applications.

Permitting challenges can delay a project’s construction timeline as they must be approved before any building can start. Because the underlying land has already been purchased or financially secured, the carrying costs borne by the developer can multiply quickly as the construction schedule stretches by weeks or months.

Working with a NEPA-Experienced Consultant

Working with an experienced environmental firm such as FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) can help developers avoid these setbacks by putting experts at the front lines of the permitting process. FCS offers a deep bench of experts and a full-service, comprehensive suite of NEPA knowledge.

Through decades of experience, FCS has developed positive relationships with local, state, and federal permitting agencies and regulators. Recognized as a trustworthy, respected industry leader, lead agencies are eager to work with our experts, ensuring an efficient, smooth permitting process and continued compliance.

FCS has provided environmental resources and consulting services to hundreds of state and federal agencies, local government, and private development clients. Our NEPA documentation services are extensive and include categorical exclusions, environmental assessment, findings of no significant impact (FONSI), environmental impact statement, as well as NEPA compliance training.  

Our in-house NEPA experts include:

  • Air quality scientists
  • Biologists and regulatory specialists
  • Archeologists/paleontologists
  • Noise specialists
  • Graphic/visual specialists
  • GIS specialists
  • Experienced land-use attorneys

Our team considers it an important responsibility to evaluate projects for NEPA compliance and analysis while acting as a neutral party presenting the facts. By successfully navigating NEPA issues in an unbiased and objective manner, FCS supports responsible development while ensuring that environmental protections are identified and implemented.

FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) comprises over 100 individuals offering due diligence, technical analysis, planning, environmental compliance, permitting, and mitigation/monitoring services for public and private projects. FCS has more than 40 years of experience navigating the complexities of CEQA and securing project approvals. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help with your specific requirements. 

About the author

Mary Bean

Mary Bean thumbnail

Mary is FCS's Environmental Services Senior Vice President and has more than 24 years of experience managing the preparation of CEQA and NEPA documents in both the public and private sectors.
She is knowledgeable about a broad range of environmental topics, backed by her experience in the field, research, technical writing, and planning. She specializes in leading interdisciplinary teams in the preparation of technical studies that support environmental clearance at the local, State, and national levels. Her depth of experience allows her to be particularly effective in strategizing with clients about the most efficient approach to environmental review. In her 7 years with FCS, Mary has successfully led FCS’s services on more than 450 projects.

How we can help

In an ever-changing regulatory and sustainability environment, FCS understands the challenges you face. Our highly qualified environmental specialists, energy management consultants, and technical experts deliver integrated, industry-specific solutions that move your project forward—so that you can focus on what matters.