What is NEPA?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as amended sets the national policies and goals for protection and enhancement of the environment, and is a procedural statute for application by all Federal agencies. NEPA is divided into two titles. Title I outlines the basic national charter for protection of the environment. Title II establishes the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) which monitors the progress made toward achieving NEPA goals.
NASA defines a NEPA document as any document required by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) or NASA NEPA regulations. These regulations include the following: Notice of Intent (NOI), Notice of Availability (NOA), Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), Record of Decision (ROD), Environmental Assessments (EA), Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), Environmental Resources Document (ERD), and all other NEPA or CEQ regulations.
A NEPA review should begin as soon as a meaningful evaluation of environment effects can be made and before reaching a level of investment or commitment that could determine development or that could restrict alternatives.
When there is a lengthy delay between when a decision is made to prepare an EIS and its actual preparation?
In accordance with 40 CFR 1501.7, NASA is required to publish a Notice of Intent (NOI) in the Federal Register that should contain all of the elements specified in 40 CFR 1508.22. The action should take place as soon as possible once the decision is made to prepare an EIS. A deferral of the NOI publication can be permitted given that NASA supplies a reasonable amount of time and opportunity for all interested parties to participate in the EIS process. NASA requires a minimum of 45 days for the EIS scoping period.
When there will be a lengthy delay between publication of the NOI and release of the draft EIS?
If there are circumstances that create a lengthy delay to the release of a draft EIS, then NASA should publish an informational update in the Federal Register. The update should include an explanation of the delay and the new schedule. Copies of the update should be mailed directly to interested parties and the respondents to the NOI during scoping.
If native tribal land will be affected by a NASA action, then NASA should give the Indian tribes the same notification that it would a State (e.g., direct mailing notices, early consultation, etc.)
NASA is not required to have a public scoping process for a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NASA may elect to have a scoping process if the proposed action has grown in importance, size, or complexity.
The following documents are required to be published: Notice of Intent (NOI), Notice of Availability (NOA) for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for an exceptional action Environmental Assessment (EA).
Usually a NEPA review is not required during the shut down or start up of a facility because the shut down and start up are considered part of the continuing operation, assuming there is an Environmental Resources Document (ERD) or Environmental Assessment (EA)/ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the facility. If the appropriate documentation doesn't exist then a NEPA review may be required during shutdown.
If public comment(s) are received about a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before a Record of Decision (ROD), the comment(s) should be evaluated to determine if it presents "significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts." If the comment(s) is determined to present new information, then a supplemental EIS is usually required. If the comment(s) do not present new information, then a supplemental EIS is not required, but NASA may reference the comment(s) in the ROD or in the appropriate section of the Final EIS.
The NEPA process consists of an evaluation of the environmental effects of a Federal undertaking, including its alternatives. There are three levels of analysis, depending on whether or not an undertaking could significantly affect the environment. These three levels include: categorical exclusion determination, preparation of an environmental assessment/finding of no significant impact (EA/FONSI), and preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS).
At the first level, an undertaking may be categorically excluded from a detailed environmental analysis if it meets certain criteria, which a Federal agency has previously determined as having no significant environmental impact. A number of agencies have developed lists of actions which are normally categorically excluded from environmental evaluation under their NEPA regulations.
At the second level of analysis, a Federal agency prepares a written environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether or not a Federal undertaking would significantly affect the environment. If the answer is no, the agency issues a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The FONSI may address measures that an agency will take to reduce (mitigate) potentially significant impacts.
If the EA determines that the environmental consequences of a proposed Federal undertaking may be significant, an EIS is prepared. An EIS is a more detailed evaluation of the proposed action and alternatives. The public, other Federal agencies, and outside parties may provide input into the preparation of an EIS and then comment on the draft EIS when it is completed.
If a Federal agency anticipates that an undertaking may significantly impact the environment, or if a project is environmentally controversial, a Federal agency may choose to prepare an EIS without having to first prepare an EA.
After a final EIS is prepared and at the time of its decision, a Federal agency will prepare a public record of its decision addressing how the findings of the EIS, including consideration of alternatives, were incorporated into the agency's decision-making process.
NASA is responsible for complying with the requirements of NEPA. In cases where more than one Federal agency is involved, NASA may be designated to act as the lead agency (or joint lead agency) and supervise preparation of the environmental analysis.
If NASA has special expertise with respect to an environmental issue or jurisdiction, it may be designated a cooperating agency in the NEPA process. A cooperating agency has the responsibility to assist the lead agency by participating in the NEPA process at the earliest possible time; by participating in the scoping process; in developing information and preparing environmental analyses, including portions of the environmental impact statement concerning which NASA has special expertise; and in making available staff support at the lead agency's request to enhance the lead agency's interdisciplinary capabilities.
Under Section 1504 of the NEPA regulations, NASA may refer inter-agency disagreements concerning proposed Federal actions that might cause unsatisfactory environmental effects to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ's role, when it accepts a referral, is generally to develop findings and recommendations, consistent with the policy goals of Section 101 of NEPA. The referral process consists of certain steps and is carried out within a specified timeframe.
NEPA is mandated in 40 CFR, Parts 1500-15081. The regulations address the procedural provisions of NEPA and the administration of the NEPA process. Title I of NEPA requires NASA to use all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony. Section 102 requires NASA to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary approach leading to a detailed assessment, called an environmental impact statement (EIS), of the environmental impact of and alternatives to NASA actions significantly affecting the environment. Section 102 also requires NASA to lend appropriate support to initiatives and programs designed to anticipate and prevent a decline in the quality of mankind's world environment.
NASA's Environmental Planning program is managed by the Agency's NEPA Coordinator, Environmental Management Division, NASA Headquarters, and is implemented by NEPA Coordinators at each of the 13 NASA Centers and component facilities.
In 1978, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) promulgated regulations [40 CFR Parts 1500-15081] implementing NEPA that are binding on all Federal agencies, including NASA. The regulations address the procedural provisions of NEPA and the administration of the NEPA process, including preparation of EISs. To date, the only change in the NEPA regulations occurred on May 27, 1986, when CEQ amended Section 1502.22 of its regulations to clarify how agencies are to carry out their environmental evaluations in situations where information is incomplete or unavailable.
An EA is described in Section 1508.9 of the NEPA regulations. Generally, an EA includes brief discussions of the following: need for the proposal, alternatives (when there is an unresolved conflict concerning alternative uses of available resources), environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, and listing of agencies and persons consulted.
An EIS, which is described in Part 1502 of the NEPA regulations, should include discussions of the purpose of and need for the action, alternatives, the affected environment, the environmental consequences of the proposed action, lists of preparers, agencies, organizations and persons to whom the statement is sent, an index, and an appendix (if any).
The public has an important role in the NEPA process, particularly during scoping, in providing input on what issues should be addressed in an EIS and in commenting on the findings in an agency's NEPA documents. The public can participate in the NEPA process by attending NEPA-related hearings or public meetings and by submitting comments directly to the lead agency. The lead agency must take into consideration all comments received from the public and other parties on NEPA documents during the comment period.
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