NEPAssist: One of EPA’s Newest Geospatial Tools

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Snow Is Here (Somewhere, Sometime)

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Several weeks ago, I reviewed drought data for the summer and thought about how it compared to previous years; work got busy and I never finished the piece (and it rained).  This weekend I saw pictures of my cousin’s new snow dragon (snowmen may be over-rated)!  I keep telling my kids, “Winter is Coming” and I now have proof in the form of actual snow!  I may be late realizing the change in weather (I was running in 60+ degree Thanksgiving weather!) here in Kansas City NOAA’s recent snowfall and depth maps verify that there is actual snow accumulation in Region 7!  Unfortunately the snow hasn’t come to my corner, but I’ll go back north for Christmas hoping they save us some powder!

Curious as ever, I was curious about past snowfalls and spent some time using the U.S. Snow Monitoring Snowfall Maps (http://gis.ncdc.noaa.gov/maps/snowfall.map?view=rsi).  I cobbled together a rough time series and casually looked for any geographic patterns.  (Unfortunately, I did not get a snow index for 1954; my family watched White Christmas this weekend).

US Snow Monitoring

Snow in 2010 was focused on the Northeast with a band from North Dakota south into Alabama;  2002 shows a strong band of snow that moved across the central (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri on into the Northeast) states.  A different snow pattern emerged (although I am moving in reverse order) in 1983 with snow in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest while being absent from the Eastern U.S. (at least during the last week or so of December (24-29).  A swing through the Southern states occurred in 1963.

Looking through the maps series, it really hit me that the bands of snow moved around the country.  I am by no means an expert (Climatologists, speak up!) but I observed the national snow pattern moved around most parts of the continental U.S. giving almost everyone a white winter at some point in the last 100 years!

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Dust in the Wind

A couple years back I wrote a blog entry for Greenversations entitled the Wind in the Winnebago.  Guess what?  It is still windy here on the plains and therefore not surprising that the song Dust in the Wind is from the rock band Kansas.  It should also not be surprising that Region 7 states have tremendous wind energy potential; Kansas is second in the nation, Nebraska is fourth, Iowa is seventh, and Missouri is fourteenth (Source: DOE).   My boys got to see some windmills while visiting friends in central Kansas.

For the techies among you, earlier in May, EPA released a new version of its Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).  This database is a comprehensive source of data on environmental characteristics of electric power generated in the United States, including wind generated power.  The nice thing about this data set is that it includes latitudes and longitudes associated with facilities, which makes it a snap to bring into a map….which brings me back to wind.

There are a lot of maps out there which, while nice to look, sometimes struggle to simply convey the concepts the creator had in mind (this is actually true for maps of all types).  Thankfully, there are some really nifty things being done in the area of map visualizations lately, including a particular cool one related to wind.  Check out the visualization below where some folks took surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database and displayed it in a fantastic way.  If you don’t see any motion on the map shown below you are probably using IE7.  Instead open the following link in Google Chrome:  http://hint.fm/wind/.  If this cool map doesn’t put some wind in your sails I don’t know what will.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Maps Give Me What I Need

By Casey McLaughlin

I put too much information on maps.  When I create a map, I want as much as I can get.  I have seen several maps of London associated with the 2012 Olympics and there is no shortage of stunning visuals of the Olympic locations.  Mapping, for me, is always interesting and this year’s Olympics provide several great examples of different maps.  Microsoft Bing recently highlighted expanded UK transit directions and their new images of the London Olympic Stadium, The London Olympics Map by MylondonMap.com repackages Google Maps but flipping over a tab on their website, I found they have a dedicated transportation map, the London Tube Map, which depicts tube lines around Olympic Venues.   Maps with imagery are great because they combine real visuals of the area.  Flipping the imagery on or viewing the street map versions of the popular platforms makes traveling so much easier!  Seeing great imagery helps users become comfortable with a place before visiting.  For me, it provides an arm-chair traveler a visual glimpse of what these fantastic places really look like.  The bloggers at Google Earth Blog detail capture the ways one may use Google Earth to explorer London through maps, aerial images, StreetView and 3d models.

None of these views, however, helps me figure out where I want to go as easily as the fun London’s Olympic Venues by Londontown.com.

Amusement park based maps are a fantastic way of highlighting important features.  The mapmaker directs viewers by emphasizing attractions by size, color, activity.  Relative relationships between features define the map navigation; much like when my father gave me directions: “Turn left at the yellow billboard after you pass the old gas station.”  The Londontown map doesn’t burden me with extraneous locations.   I only get what I need for moving around at the Olympics.

No map can contain all the information I want – well, it can contain it, but seeing it all at once becomes chaotic.   The lesson I am learning is: keep it simple.

Treasure map from stock.xchng

Treasure map from stock.xchng

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now is the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in the EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

What’s Your Name?

I must be having dreams about K-Tel’s Superhits of the 70’s since my last couple of post titles have been been Kansas and BTO songs, and now this one is from Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Most people know that regional geography plays an important role in determining whether one calls their carbonated corn syrup beverage of choice a soda, pop, sodapop or Coke (even when its a Pepsi). These same regional distinctions exist across the U.S. when it comes to naming waterbodies. Creek and River are ubiquitous but check out where brooks, runs, washes, and branches are found.

Mapping Terms for Streams (Derek Watkins)

Mapping Terms for Streams (Derek Watkins)

If you want to find out the name of the arroyo/kill/swamp/slough by you there are lots of ways, but EPA has a pretty easy online application that can help. It is called My Waters Mapper.  This application has alot of functionality, and it really makes it easy to find a waterbody’s name.  You can enter an address and then zoom to the area you are interested in.  Next simply click on the “Other EPA Water Data” tab towards the bottom right of the screen and check the box for “Rivers and Streams” and waters will magically appear as blue squiggles on the map.  Click on your particular blue squiggle of interest and a box will pop up with the waterbody’s name.  There are an awful lot of NAs…but before you consider naming that creek after Uncle Bill you will have to check with the fine folks at the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. I live not too far from an “Old Maids Creek”.  What colorfully named creeks do you reside near?

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.