Applicants intending to apply for federal mass transportation funds should initiate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and integrate it with other planning activities at the earliest possible time. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) should be notified at the time a project concept is identified. Once the applicant has furnished sufficient information and documentation, FTA will advise the applicant of the probable class of action that will be required to meet NEPA requirements. There are three classes of action, which determine the level of documentation required in the NEPA process. Class III actions are defined as any major federal action that may significantly affect the environment.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared for all Class III actions. The purpose of the EIS is to provide full and open evaluation of environmental issues and alternatives, and to inform decision-makers and the public of reasonable alternatives that could avoid or minimize adverse impacts and enhance the quality of the environment.
The FTA's environmental impact regulation (Environmental Impact and Related Procedures (23 C.F.R 771)), issued jointly with FHWA, describes two types of mass transit projects that normally have significant affects on the environment:
Other types of mass transportation projects may also require an EIS based on FTA's review of an individual project and whether its impacts are judged to be potentially significant.
In reaching a determination on the significance of impacts, the definitions of "major federal action" and "significantly" in the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR 1500 et seq.) are used.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process begins with FTA’s publication of a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register along with similar grantee announcements in local newspapers and other media. At this time, a tentative list of alternatives and impacts is established and presented to the public and interested government agencies for comment. This notification is part of scoping - the process of affording an early opportunity for the public and agencies to identify potential issues to be addressed in the EIS.
The objectives of scoping are to:
Scoping includes the provision of materials describing the project, alternatives, impacts, and any other relevant information known about the proposed undertaking. These materials are distributed to invite early comments.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared in two stages – draft and final. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) provides an opportunity for government agencies and the public to review a proposed project and alternatives. The principle components of a DEIS include discussion of the following 1) the purpose of and need for action; 2) alternatives, including the proposed action; 3) the affected environment; and 4) environmental consequences. A DEIS must be signed by the FTA Regional Administrator and the authorized official of the local lead or cooperating transit agency. The approved DEIS is then concurrently filed by FTA with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and distributed by the local lead agency.
Once the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) has been completed and signed, a notification of availability (NOA) is published in the Federal Register by FTA and advertised through local media to solicit public comment by the local lead agency. The DEIS is circulated to those agencies with jurisdiction by law, parties that have expressed an interest, either through the scooping process or in response to the NOA, and other entities potentially affected by any of the alternatives. The circulation period must last a minimum of 45 days and a public hearing must be held with at least 15 days prior notice.
After completion of the circulation period, all substantive written comments and the public hearing testimony are addressed and the preparation of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) begins. The principle components of the FEIS include: 1) identification of a preferred alternative; 2) responses to comments made during the circulation period; 3) commitments to mitigate adverse impacts of the project; 4) evidence of compliance with related environmental statutes, Executive Orders and regulations; and 5) a description of changes that have been made to the project since the DEIS was published. Once the appropriate FTA official has approved the FEIS, it is concurrently filed by FTA with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) for publication of a notification of availability for a 30-day circulation period in the Federal Register and it is distributed and advertised through local media by the local lead agency.
Record of Decision (ROD): Following completion of the circulation period, FTA may issues a ROD—a concise report that states FTA’s determination that NEPA on the proposed action, as described in the FEIS, has been completed for the project. The ROD describes the basis for FTA’s decision, identifies alternatives that were considered, and summarizes specific mitigation measures that will be incorporated into the project.
Agency Action: Once a ROD is provided, the applicant may proceed having complied with NEPA and FTA may grant funds for the project if other FTA requirements have been met.