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NEPA Documentation

Improving the Quality of Environmental Documents

On July 31, 2006, FHWA issued a Memorandum detailing its position on the preparation of NEPA documents and providing information on the report, Improving the Quality of Environmental Documents, prepared by AASHTO, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the FHWA. The report's focus was on improving the quality of NEPA documents and represents FHWA's and the transportation industry's current thinking regarding the use of different formats and alternative approaches to NEPA documentation. FHWA encourages the consideration of ways to improve the effectiveness of NEPA documents, including the use of different formats and alternative approaches to making documents easier to read, while demonstrating compliance with NEPA and other applicable environmental laws that satisfy the needs and expectations of FHWA's partners and stakeholders.

Visit the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO's NEPA Process web page and view the report from June 23, 2006.

On August 17, 2006, FHWA issued a Memorandum outlining requirements for the timely publication of documents in the Federal Register.

Documentation

Documentation (along with dissemination) is an essential component of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) project development process, which supports and complements public involvement and interagency coordination. NEPA requires that Federal agencies disclose the results of their analysis and the effects of project implementation on the environment and solicit comments on the proposals from interested and affected parties. The purpose of documenting the NEPA process provides for complete disclosure to the public; allows others an opportunity to provide input and comment on proposals, alternatives, and environmental impacts; and provides the appropriate information for the decisionmaker to make a reasoned choice among alternatives.

The foundation of the NEPA process described in the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations comes directly from NEPA in Section 102(2) and summarized as follows:

Agencies of the Federal Government shall --
  • utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach in planning and in decisionmaking which may have an impact on man's environment;
  • include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible official on --
    1. the environmental impact of the proposed action,
    2. any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented,
    3. alternatives to the proposed action,
    4. the relationship between local short-term uses of man's environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and
    5. any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.
  • prior to making any detailed statement, the responsible Federal official shall consult with and obtain the comments of any Federal agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise
  • make them available to the public

Transportation projects vary in type, size and complexity, and potential to affect the environment. Transportation project effects can vary from very minor to significant impacts on the human environment. To account for the variability of project impacts, three basic "classes of action" are allowed and determine how compliance with NEPA is carried out and documented:

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