Chapter 3: NEPA Process Options
3.4 Environmental Impact Statement
NEPA requires that federal agencies prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for major federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment.
The following are examples of actions that normally require an EIS, as listed in 23 CFR 771.115:
- A new controlled access freeway.
- A highway project of four or more lanes on a new location.
- New construction or extension of fixed rail transit facilities (e.g., rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, automated guideway transit).
- New construction or extension of a separate roadway for buses or high occupancy vehicles not located within an existing highway facility.
An EIS is a full disclosure document that details the process through which a transportation project was developed, includes consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other applicable environmental laws and executive orders.
CEQ has established the following major milestones in the EIS assessment:
- Notice of Intent (NOI),
- Draft EIS,
- Final EIS, and
- Record of Decision (ROD).
SAFETEA-LU Section 6002's environmental review process went into effect on August 10, 2005, and applies to EIS documents for which an NOI was issued on or after that date. Key requirements imposed by SAFETEA-LU on new EIS projects include:
- The project sponsor shall send a project initiation letter to FHWA prior to the start of NEPA.
- The FHWA serves as the Federal lead agency for a transportation project, and the project sponsor that is a State or local government entity receiving federal-aid funds shall serve as a joint lead agency.
- The lead agencies must invite all Federal, State, tribal, regional and local government agencies that have an interest in the project to be participating agencies.
- Lead agencies must develop a coordination plan for public and agency participation and comment during the environmental review process.
- Participating agencies and the public must be given an opportunity for input in the development of the purpose and need and the range of alternatives. Lead agencies must collaborate with participating agencies on the appropriate methodologies to be used.
- FHWA may issue a 180-day statute of limitations (SOL) on claims against USDOT and other Federal agencies for certain environmental and other approval actions. A SOL notice can be used for a highway project regardless of the category of documentation used under NEPA. It is expected that notices will be published for most EIS projects and many EA projects, but not for projects that are CEs.
As discussed in Section 1.1.4, SAFETEA-LU 2005, FHWA has issued final guidance on the SAFETEA-LU environmental review process. The guidance is found at:http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/section6002/
In addition, the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence has published a Practitioner's Handbook on this topic. Handbook 09, Using the SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process (23 U.S.C. 139), can be downloaded.
A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is necessary when major changes, new information, or further developments occur in the project that would result in significant environmental impacts not identified in the most recently distributed Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) or Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) (40 CFR 1502.9(c)). The SEIS does not normally require re-initiating the environmental process; instead, the SEIS is for the last approval (DEIS, FEIS or Record of Decision (ROD)). The need for and scope of a SEIS is described in greater detail in Section 6.5.2, Supplemental EIS.