Navigating NEPA 50 Years Later: The Past, Present, and Future

December 17, 2019 7:30 am — 3:15 pm
Washington, DC (and webinar)

Co-Sponsored by the hosting firm Dentons US LLP

An ELI 50th Anniversary Conference

Acting as the key federal charter for environmental protection, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) plays a crucial role in the authorization and approval of more development projects than any other federal law. However, with great power comes great responsibility, as NEPA has faced numerous criticisms over the past five decades. Proponents believe NEPA protects communities and the environment from potentially detrimental infrastructure projects, while critics counter that NEPA creates impossible hurdles to development, and advocate for amendments that would cut through regulatory red tape preventing the timely review and undertaking of important infrastructure projects. Our leading experts reflected on NEPA’s past and successes, explore the current challenges NEPA faces, and looked to the  Act’s future.

8:30 AM

Registration and Light Breakfast

9:00 AM

Opening Remarks and Morning Keynote:

9:30 AM

Panel 1: The History of NEPA explored the creation and evolution of NEPA since the Act’s enactment 50 years ago and reflect on the lessons learned along the way.  Panelists explored the opportunities and obstacles of establishing and implementing this regulatory framework, including the Council on Environmental Quality regulation, NEPA’s overall regulatory process, review, standards, and enforcement.


  • James M. McElfish, Jr., Senior Attorney, Director, Sustainable Use of Land Program, Environmental Law Institute, Moderator
  • Sharon Buccino, Senior Director, Land Division, Nature Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
  • Robin M. Rotman, Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri and Counsel, Van Ness Feldman LLP
  • Suzanne R. Schaeffer, Counsel, Dentons

10:45 AM

Networking Break

11:00 AM

Panel 2:  How to Successfully Conduct NEPA Reviews explored best practices for approaching NEPA’s regulatory process and avoiding potential pitfalls. Panelists explored top tools for preparing effective NEPA documentation, methods for engagement with the public and with project proponents during all stages of the process, promoting environmental and climate justice within NEPA, and successful case examples.


  • James M. Auslander, Principal, Beveridge & Diamond PC, Moderator
  • Matthew Adams, Partner, Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP
  • Edward Boling, Associate Director, National Environmental Policy Act, White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Dava Kaitala, General Director, Permitting and Sustainability and Senior Supervisory Attorney, BNSF Railway
 12:15 -1:00 PM


 12:40 -1:00 PM

Keynote Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)

 1:00 PM

Panel 3: Roles in NEPA Reviews explored the role of the project proponent in NEPA reviews and the relative roles of the lead federal agency, cooperating agencies, consultants, and more. Panelists confronted the firm and unwritten rules of NEPA reviews, the varied expectations across agencies, and the growing trend of P3 projects.


  • Stephen Schima, Senior Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice and Campaign & Legislative Director, Partnership Project, Moderator
  • Alexander Herrgott, Executive Director, Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, General Services Administration
  • Brenda Mallory, Executive Director and Senior Counsel, Conservation Litigation Project
  • Manisha Patel, Vice President, Environmental Policy Practice, WSP
2:15 PM  Networking Break
2:30 PM

Panel 4: The Future of NEPA tackled the modernization and reinvigoration of NEPA as panelists looked towards the Act’s near and distant future. Panelists explored recent developments regarding permitting, the project approval process, collaboration with regulatory agencies, recent legislation (such as “FAST-41”) that may affect NEPA, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions-related NEPA claims.


  • Seema Kakade, Assistant Professor of Law and Director, Environmental Law Clinic, Francis King Carey School of Law, University of Maryland, Moderator
  • David Bancroft, Executive Director, International Association for Impact Assessment
  • Oliver A. Houck, Professor of Law, Tulane University Law School
  • Viktoria Seale, General Counsel, White House Council on Environmental Quality
 3:45 PM Closing Remarks: 

Nicholas C. Yost, former Partner, Dentons and former General Counsel, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)


ELI members will have access to materials/a recording of this session (usually posted w/in 48 hours). If you are not an ELI member but would like to have access to archived sessions like this one, go HERE to see the many benefits of membership and how to join.

Additional Materials:
NEPA at 50, Nicholas Yost (The Environmental Forum, Nov./Dec 2019)
Proposed Revisions to Improve and Modernize CEQ's NEPA Regulations
, by Lance D. Wood (49 ELR 10529, June 2019)


In-person CLE Attendees:

  • We will have a sign-in and sign-out sheet for you to initial and fill out with time total time of attendance for the event.
  • We will provide you with your CLE information at the end of the event.

Webinar CLE Attendees (you must have selected CLE info when you registered):

  • When watching the webinar you will need to have the webinar at the forefront of your computer screen as GoTo webinar software will be tracking attentiveness and creating an attentiveness report.
  • You will need to be watching the webinar for a majority of the time to receive CLE Credit.
  • We will email you the CLE information and certification within one week of the event.