What is the Shipley approach to compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
Shipley Group consultants have over 35 years of experience as specialists in NEPA compliance. Our clients have come from major federal agencies, departments, and services--especially those with stewardship responsibilities for federal lands and the resources on these lands.
Our extensive experience with NEPA compliance led us to develop two major NEPA objectives:
Objective 1: To assist agency employees and their managers to plan, write, and publish NEPA documents as efficiently as possible. This objective is consistent with the goals in CEQ’s Regulations, as issued in 1978. The Regulations urge agencies to prepare concise, analytic documents, not encyclopedic, lengthy explorations of unimportant minor issues. Efficient documentation skills should save agencies both time and money.
Objective 2: To ensure that all NEPA documents (and their extensive supporting files) are as close to 100 percent clear as possible. Clear documents satisfy the NEPA mandate that disclosed impact information be clear and readable. The public, agency decision makers, and federal judges should have no trouble understanding and then using information from NEPA documents.
How did Shipley Group consultants develop their NEPA skills?
Shipley Group (originally Shipley Associates) began its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) consulting early in 1979. This year is notable because the Council on Environmental Quality issued its landmark Regulations in 1978. The 1978 Regulations summarized the guidance from the first eight years of court cases based on the NEPA law, which President Nixon signed on January 1, 1970. This 1978 version of the regulations is still legally current. Only Section 1502.22 has been revised and reissued as “Incomplete and unavailable information.”
The 1978 Regulations immediately triggered federal agency efforts about how best to comply with NEPA’s new regulations. The Regulations mandated that all agencies prepare agency-specific NEPA handbooks. So early NEPA compliance was a two-tier effort: (1) compliance with the new regulations, as issued and (2) compliance with an agency handbook still to be written. Some agencies failed to complete their handbooks until the late 1980’s, so early NEPA compliance was an evolving task.
The typical agency learning curve for NEPA compliance took most agencies a decade or longer to mature their NEPA process and to create legally compliant documents. So, to repeat, adequate NEPA compliance was an evolving skill.
Shipley Group consulting and training based on NEPA were also evolving. Our early NEPA workshops in 1979 and 1980 were 90 percent technical writing and only 10 percent NEPA compliance. By 1983 NEPA compliance information was more than 50 percent of workshop content. By the end of the 1980’s compliance information was easily 90 percent of the content.
Our earliest NEPA clients in 1979 were the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Both of these agencies soon learned that before they could cut trees or manage grazing allotments, they needed legally compliant NEPA documents finished and signed.
These mandated NEPA documents analyzed potential impacts of proposed agency actions and then disclosed these impacts to all interested and affected parties (federal, state, and local governments; Indian Tribes; private interest groups; and even individual citizens). CEQ’s 1978 Regulations in Section 1501.7(a)1 also specify that agencies invite participation from “those [individuals] who might not be in accord with the action on environmental grounds.”
As a disclosure statue, NEPA forced agency resource planning to become a transparent process. This is where Shipley Group identified its major market niche. Shipley Group in the 1970’s had specialized in business and technical writing. So Shipley consultants took their experience as professional writers and editors and applied their skills to the disclosure tasks in NEPA compliance. Our NEPA consultants became itinerant preachers for the NEPA process. Many of our early Forest Service and BLM participants were unaccustomed to telling their publics what they planned to do and why they planned to do it. So our NEPA sessions routinely began with an explanation of NEPA’s transparency mandate.
By 1986 Shipley was providing onsite training and consulting to well over 100 National Forests and some 50 BLM districts. Our client list eventually included many other federal agencies, including all military services in the Department of Defense.