As part of the planning process for NEC FUTURE, a unique partnership was established with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). In January 2012, CEQ and FRA announced the selection of the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 EIS as a pilot project to promote early collaboration with federal and state environmental agencies for efficient environmental decision-making. The pilot was designed to help avoid the conflicts and delays often found in complex, multi-state transportation projects by engaging environmental resource and regulatory agencies early in the environmental review and assessment process. NEC FUTURE is one of five pilot projects in the CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot Program, as described on the CEQ website. The CEQ NEPA Pilot Program seeks to improve implementation of NEPA through innovative approaches to completing environmental reviews more efficiently and effectively.
The year-long Pilot project was officially completed in January 2013. During the Pilot, regional resource meetings were held in April, June and October 2012, and a corridor-wide webinar was held in January 2013; each regional meeting was also available to attend as a webinar. The meetings were informal roundtables to discuss the program status, Tier 1 EIS approach and methods for agency coordination. This process enabled FRA to engage the agencies as partners both in the NEPA process and in the structuring of the current and future agency coordination effort itself.
In order to overcome the challenge of coordinating decision-making across multiple agencies and within their respective organizations, formal points of contact were established for each of the federal and state resource and regulatory agencies at the headquarters level and, if appropriate, at the regional or field office level. State transportation and economic development representatives, as well as State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), were also participants in the pilot in order to foster communication and integrate the transportation planning and environmental review processes.
One achievement of the CEQ Pilot was the development of a Statement of Principles that spells out an approach and protocols for future collaboration with federal agencies. The following federal agencies have concurred with the Statement of Principles:
As part of the CEQ Pilot, FRA has identified best practices for environmental collaboration during a complex, multi-state planning process. Five best practices were identified through this effort:
Although the Pilot concluded in January 2013, FRA continues to meet with the state and federal resource and regulatory agencies involved in the Pilot on a regular basis. The CEQ Pilot has established an effective foundation for ongoing agency coordination, with expected benefits both for the duration of the NEC FUTURE program and during subsequent project-level environmental reviews.