Session A3

Your NEPA Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It…

Manisha Patel, Eric Beightel, Serge Stanich, & Jomar Maldonado

9:00 – 10:30 AM (PT) | 12:00 – 1:30 PM (ET)

About the Presentation

Panelists: Jason Jurgens, NDOT or Kyle Liebig, NDOT NEPA Assignment Manager, Serge Stanich, California High-Speed Rail Director of Environmental Services, Federal NEPA Assignment Manager or CEQ Senior Official Eric Beightel, WSP

For some State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) considering taking on federal environmental review responsibilities, “NEPA Assignment” may seem like Mission Impossible. This panel will discuss the environmental review streamlining tool offered under 23 U.S.C. §326 and §327. NEPA Assignment allows the United States Secretary of Transportation to assign responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for highway projects, as well railroad, public transportation, and/or multimodal projects.

Although there are only eight states that have assumed NEPA Assignment right now, there is a growing interest in it as a tool that facilitates efficient and effective implementation of NEPA. The panel will engage in a lively discussion of real-world experience to provide conference attendees with a deeper understanding of NEPA Assignment. After a brief over of NEPA Assignment from the moderator, we’ll use the following topics to guide the discussion:

Non-highway Assignment
On July 23, 2019, California, acting through the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), became the first state to assume the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) responsibilities under NEPA Assignment. The Authority is now engaged in the enormous effort of establishing its NEPA program to complete six environmental impact statements (EISs) on the nation’s largest infrastructure project in the next two years.

Applying for Assignment During a Transition
The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) assumed NEPA responsibilities for categorical exclusions in 2018 and is applying for “full NEPA Assignment” under Section 327. NDOT is now navigating the Assignment application process with a new federal administration and just as CEQ’s NEPA regulations have been revised.

Assignment Beyond Transportation?
As the Biden Administration outlines its ambitious plans for infrastructure and a carbon-free economy, can NEPA Assignment be extended to other sectors and agencies, such as renewable energy?

 NEPA Track, 1.5 AICP Credits

About the Speakers

Manisha Patel
Vice President, Environmental Process and Policy Practice Team

Manisha Patel is a vice president for WSP’s Environmental Process and Policy Practice Team. Prior to joining WSP, Ms. Patel served as the Deputy General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. With almost three decades of experience and as a nationally recognized expert, Ms. Patel provides strategic advice on how to position infrastructure projects for accelerated environmental reviews and permitting approvals under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related environmental regulations.

Her mastery of NEPA and acumen for solving complex multi-jurisdictional problems, including working with a broad and diverse range of stakeholders, has yielded some of the fundamental federal environmental and energy efficiency regulations and policy of the last decade.

Eric Beightel
Vice President, Environmental Process and Policy Practice

Led by Eric Beightel, WSP’s Environmental Process and Policy Practice Team is nationally-recognized for its experience and expertise in accelerating project delivery by streamlining the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related statutes.  The team brings an unmatched understanding of the environmental laws, regulations, policies and procedures that govern the infrastructure project development process.  His mastery of NEPA and complex multi-jurisdictional problem-solving, including working with a broad and diverse range of stakeholders, has yielded some of the fundamental federal environmental regulations and policy of the last decade.  Prior to joining WSP, Mr. Beightel served as the senior environmental policy advisor in the Office of the Secretary at the United States Department of Transportation.  While in that role, Mr. Beightel led an Interagency Permitting Improvement Team, tasked with advancing best practices to accelerate the environmental review and permitting processes for infrastructure projects.  In that role, he helped pioneer the Federal Permitting Dashboard and provided integral technical assistance for the passage of environmental streamlining provisions of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), including Title 41.

Serge Stanich
Director of Environmental Services
California High Speed Rail Authority 

Serge Stanich is the Director of Environmental Services for the California High Speed ​​Rail Authority (The Authority). Mr. Stanich has over two decades of experience as an environmental leader.  He has served in numerous leadership roles as an environmental consultant, including as a Senior Conservation Planner and Business Development Manager at Westervelt Ecological Services, as a Senior Permit Manager and Director of Programs at WSP, and as a Business Class Leader in Environmental Sciences and Senior Permitting Scientist and Planner at HDR Inc. Additionally, Mr. Stanich was Vice President of Operations and Senior Managing Scientist at Great Eastern Ecology. A native of Sacramento, California, Mr. Stanich is an avid fly-fisher and is passionate about animal welfare.

Jomar Maldonado
Associate Director for the National Environmental Policy Act
Council on Environmental Quality

Jomar Maldonado is the Associate Director for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at the Council on Environmental Quality. In this role, he provides policy guidance to Federal agencies and regulatory interpretation to assist with their compliance with NEPA. Jomar has over 15 years of environmental policy and legal experience within the Federal government working on environmental review matters such as NEPA, Environmental Justice, Endangered Species Act, Floodplain Management, Wetlands Protection, and similar requirements. Prior to joining CEQ Jomar worked as the Project Development Team Lead within the Office of Environmental Review and Project Development for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). His career includes 7 years as an environmental attorney with the Program Legal Services in FHWA and 7 years in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation, where he functioned as the Agency’s Environmental Officer. In his various roles he has worked on many complex issues such as assignment of NEPA responsibilities to States, initiatives to expedite permitting of Federal projects, resiliency/ hazard mitigation, floodplain reviews, environmental review of the National Flood Insurance Program, Buy America requirements, contract administration for highway projects, environmental justice considerations, and tolling and innovative financing for highways.