Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Environmental Streamlining and NEPA: A History

The national commitment to the environment was formalized through the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. NEPA establishes a national environmental policy and provides a framework for environmental planning and decisionmaking by Federal agencies. NEPA directs Federal agencies, when planning projects or issuing permits, to conduct environmental reviews to consider the potential impacts on the environment by their proposed actions. NEPA also established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which is charged with the administration of NEPA. The NEPA process consists of a set of fundamental objectives that include interagency coordination and cooperation and public participation in planning and project development decisionmaking.

Environmental reviews involve an interdisciplinary and interagency process. One Federal agency takes the lead role working cooperatively with other Federal and state agencies during the entire transportation development process. This coordinated review process includes input from the public, as well as from other agencies, to guarantee that all environmental protections, as well as other issues are addressed.


Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) mandated Environmental Streamlining as the timely delivery of transportation projects while protecting and enhancing the environment. The objectives of Environmental Streamlining are provided in the box below. Environmental Streamlining requires transportation and natural, cultural, and historic resource agencies to establish realistic timeframes for transportation and environmental resource agencies to develop projects, and then to work cooperatively to adhere to those timeframes. The efficient and effective coordination of multiple environmental reviews, analysis, and permitting actions is essential to meeting the Environmental Streamlining mandate for highway and transit projects under TEA-21. A key element of Environmental Streamlining is communication with and the gathering of input from the public and stakeholders.


On August 10, 2005, President George W. Bush signed into law the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The two landmark bills that brought surface transportation into the 21st century-the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)-shaped the highway program to meet the Nation's changing transportation needs. SAFETEA-LU builds on this firm foundation, supplying the funds and refining the programmatic framework for investments needed to maintain and grow our vital transportation infrastructure.

SAFETEA-LU addresses the many challenges facing our transportation system today — challenges such as improving safety, reducing traffic congestion, improving efficiency in freight movement, increasing intermodal connectivity, and protecting the environment — as well as laying the groundwork for addressing future challenges. SAFETEA-LU promotes more efficient and effective Federal surface transportation programs by focusing on transportation issues of national significance, while giving State and local transportation decision makers more flexibility for solving transportation problems in their communities.

A number of SAFETEA-LU provisions are aimed at improving efficiency in highway program and project delivery. From better planning and coordination to improved materials, contracting and construction, these provisions will support efforts to more efficiently advance a safer and more effective highway program, and strengthen stewardship and oversight.

SAFETEA-LU Environmental Provisions

  • Environmental review process that includes a new category of "participating agencies" for Federal, state, local agencies and tribal nations that have an interest in the project.
  • Purpose and Need and Range of Alternatives for a project are established after an opportunity by the participating agencies and the public for involvement.
  • The lead agency must establish coordination plan for agency and public participation and comment.
  • A 180-day statute of limitations for lawsuits challenging Federal agency approvals is provided, but it will require a new step of publishing a notice of environmental decisions in the Federal Register.
  • State assumption of responsibilities for CEs and a project delivery pilot program for assumption of USDOT environmental responsibilities under NEPA and other environmental laws.
  • A new Section 4(f) determination of a de minimis impact finding for section 4(f) resources.

SAFETEA-LU Guidance and Information

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