By Amber Tucker
Hi all, this is my first attempt at the blogging world, so please bear with me. I initially started out intending to major in Journalism so maybe this won’t be as mighty of a feat as I’ve imagined it to be. Even though I still do enjoy journaling in my personal time, my passion for career choice took a turn in my second semester of college. It was in a requisite biology course that I took greater notice of and fell in love with wildlife, nature, and the great outdoors. This led to a change in majors to Environmental Science which in turn, led me to the most amazing workplace I never dreamt I would get to be a part of; EPA. Since day one, I’ve never stopped learning, and along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to and able to utilize some of the most progressive scientific advances.
I think we can all agree that technology is pretty amazing these days; through the remarkable technology of public GIS platforms like Google Earth, you have the ability to essentially tour the world from the comfort of your own living room. In the words of the late, great Dr. Seuss…”Oh the places you’ll go.” Well, if you’re like me, with the world at your fingertips and the possibilities endless, the first place you decide to visit…an aerial view of your own home. Exotic destination, no doubt. However, there’s certainly some value in checking out your own neighborhood from a different point of view. It’s good to know what all encompasses your surrounding areas. You may discover things you never knew about the places you see every day.
EPA has rolled out some new technology that allows you to do just that; spatially discover the world around you, from an environmental perspective. Previously only accessible to EPA employees and contractors, NEPAssist is now available to everyone wanting to take a look at environmental factors and conditions in any given area throughout the country. A web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the primary stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas. It’s a tool that can also help citizens to be aware of and involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.
NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development. There’s information on regulated facilities, demographics, water features, historic places, threatened & endangered species, wetlands, and so much more! You can trust me on this, or you can check it out for yourself (even though I assure you I’m trustworthy, I’d go with the latter).
The thought behind this is that NEPAssist could serve as an essential “one-stop shop” to garner environmental information for your desired vicinity. NEPAssist also houses EJView data, formerly known as the Environmental Justice Geographic Assessment Tool, which is a mapping tool that allows users to create maps and generate detailed reports based on the geographic areas and data sets they choose. Similar to the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps, NEPAssist offers a variety of viewing options; Road, Aerial, and in some of the more urban areas, Birds Eye view. I have to admit, the clarity and close-up image that Birds Eye view affords simultaneously amazes and freaks me out a little; I think I can see my dad’s pickup truck parked in my driveway!
A really cool feature of NEPAssist is the ability for you to define an area and then generate a detailed environmental report for that area. Using this tool, you can draw a point, line, area, or rectangle. You can also specify a buffer area radius for which the report will be generated. Draw your desired area, hit the NEPAssist Report button, and voila! You have yourself an environmental snapshot report. Information in the report will be displayed as a series of questions with yes or no answers based on the location of your project area. Click on a hyperlinked question to view the data source and associated metadata. All of this data, historical and current, available to you with just the push of a button.
This is the same primary and first-line tool we at EPA use to evaluate projects and generate comments. To access this tool and to learn more about NEPAssist and how it can aid you in your NEPA work, please visit the public NEPAssist website at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/nepassist-mapping.html. Here you will also find a link to a NEPAssist Demonstration Webinar, as well as other NEPAssist user resources. EPA is continually striving to enhance the NEPAssist tool to facilitate more efficient and effective federal environmental reviews and project planning.
Pretty neat, right? I’m all about making well-informed decisions and I appreciate that NEPAssist allows me to become more aware of the environmental conditions and features in my backyard, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my nation. Today, my cul-de-sac. Tomorrow, the world! Check out our NEPAssist page and create your own environmental knowledge quest.
Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7. She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7’s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.