Look before you leap

Teri Dykhuis

Teri Dykhuis, ES&H NEPA Program Manager, wrote this column.

When asked what I do vocationally, I often say that I’m an environmental professional who helps the lab to “look before we leap.” This axiom is a simple way to describe what the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to take into account the potential impacts of their proposed actions to the quality of the environment, is all about.

Recently, the LBNE project team initiated preliminary planning for a NEPA evaluation of potential impacts to the proposed near and far sites. The evaluation will take considerable time, and extensive planning is vital because it requires a multidisciplinary team of experts in the social, economic, engineering and environmental sciences. It also involves interactions with federal and state agencies, tribal nations and the public.

For a mere six-page statute, NEPA dictates a substantial evaluation process, which includes impacts to human health and the built environment, in addition to the more obvious impacts to the natural environment. For Fermilab, these include impacts to:

Human health:

  • risk of damage from natural disasters
  • risk of exposure to hazardous materials, wastes and activities
  • risk of contracting diseases

The built environment:

  • traffic and transportation
  • noise
  • historic and cultural resources
  • land use conflicts
  • agricultural resources
  • population and housing impacts
  • recreation
  • utilities and public services

The natural environment:

  • water resources, including water quality, hydrology and water supply
  • air quality
  • biological resources, including fish, wildlife and plant species, and ecologically critical resources, such as endangered and threatened species
  • soils, geology and mineral resources
  • visual, scenic or aesthetic resources

I recently had the opportunity at the National Association of Environmental Professionals Annual Conference to attend a presentation by Yardena Mansoor from the DOE Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance regarding the 2011 revised DOE NEPA Implementing Procedures. More than 300 attended the conference, which explored the complex interconnected issues faced by environmental professionals today. The keynote speaker inspired the group when he stated that “environmental professionals are part of what makes America great. We are the nexus of science, politics and policy.” My attendance immediately paid off as it aided me, upon my return to the lab, in obtaining the necessary NEPA approval from DOE for the Mu2e Project.

So whether at work or at home, remember to "take five" and "look before you leap."