NEPA is a powerful collaborative planning process


  • Judith Landry Lee

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    • Judith Landry Lee is the owner of Environmental Planning Strategies and has 20 years of experience and education in natural resource management, environmental planning, and practical and effective implementation of NEPA and public involvement.


After 25 years, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is still highly misunderstood and inefficiently implemented. NEPA, however, incorporates the components of a quality public interdisciplinary planning process. The components that make NEPA a powerful planning process—recognition of the role of uncertainty, interpersonal collaboration, nonlinear processes, and decision making with administrative and political risk—tend to make NEPA discomforting, at best, to many managers and practitioners. NEPA is not about more “bullet-proof” documents, more talented writers, more thorough data, more controllable public involvement processes, or even correct decisions. NEPA is about more participatory planning, incorporating the “messy” human components of values, politics, change, uncertainty, risk, strategy, emotions, and the diversity of personalities and life experiences that shape ourselves, our coping mechanisms, and our relationships. This article evaluates NEPA from the human standpoint and outlines six general techniques for effectively implementing the systematic interdisciplinary approach to planning required by NEPA.