No bandwidth, no problem for large NEPA Studies

Eric Tausch
Picture of hard copy volumes and wafer card
Those who can’t download our robust environmental studies can now get them in the mail faster and easier on wafer cards that can save taxpayers an average of $5,517.75 per analysis over printing and mailing hard copies.

Save time and tax dollars by getting digital environmental documents in your mailbox

Even with a computer at home, many people simply don’t have the bandwidth to download the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) detailed environmental analyses from the NEPA Register.

Until recently, that’s meant requesting a hardcopy, as well as waiting for printing and large package delivery at an average taxpayer cost of around a $100 per document. But things just got a whole lot simpler, faster, and cheaper. Don’t believe it? Try $6, and you get it in a standard letter-sized envelope in about a week once the document is published.

The bureau is required to analyze all its land-use plans and proposed projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. BLM Alaska alone can conduct up to a dozen or more such analyses each year. In fact, the agency published six such comprehensive documents in the past 12 months alone, according to BLM Alaska Supervisory Planning & Environmental Coordinator Serena Sweet.

While wafer cards get to you pretty fast, Sweet said downloads are still the only guaranteed way to get documents before comment/review periods begin because of timeline requirements put in place in 2017. While hard copies can still be requested, she noted that new NEPA rules published in September remove the requirement in federal regulations for printed documents to be provided for free.

While recent federal policies have slimmed these important studies by removing redundancy and wordiness, they can still be sizeable. Think thousands of pages in multiple volumes. For instance, the three-volume Coastal Plain Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) alone is more than 3,100 pages with high-resolution maps and graphics.

The middle-range cost of printing and mailing the median 75 hard copies requested of a single EIS is $6,000, or $80 per copy, according to Vanessa Rathbun, BLM Alaska’s acting printing specialist. Depending on how many volumes comprise the document, it can range from $4,000-8,000 for printing and mailing.

In contrast, the cost of purchasing 75 wafer cards with the digital document preloaded is $441 ($5.88 each). Add another $0.55 each for postage, and the grand total using wafer cards is $482.25. This is a savings of $5,517.75 over the past practice of printing and mailing an EIS.

“This is just one of many ways we’re examining our digital products and services in the state to meet our customers’ needs,” said BLM Alaska Communications Director Lesli Ellis-Wouters. “It’s definitely a bonus that doing so in this case can also save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each year while also helping us support the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.”

The recent 21st Century “IDEA” Act charges all federal agencies with revamping and updating their presence online to make public access easier. The wafer card move by BLM Alaska shows that meeting customers’ needs online can sometimes mean considering smart offline business options.

“Online documents can have massive delays downloading and opening where connectivity is scarce,” said Sweet.  “Some people really appreciate the convenience of having a dedicated ‘thumb drive’ with the document already loaded because they can quickly find, open, look through, and search it. The overall benefit is that the cost and time required to produce and mail the wafer cards is significantly less than hard copy printing.”

Easily download or order a copy of the document you want mailed to you at the BLM’s NEPA Register. Search for your project and click the “documents” tab to view or download documents. Find contact information for the project’s manager to request a copy be mailed to you using the “home” tab.