National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and
Transportation Construction Projects
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) marked the beginning of the
environmental review process for all Federal actions, including the construction
of highway and bridge projects falling under the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA). NEPA established a mandate
for Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences
of their proposed actions, document the analysis, and make this information
available to the public for comment prior to implementation.
The FHWA has issued regulations
to address their responsibilities under NEPA, entitled Environmental
Impact and Related Procedures (23 CFR ? 771). FHWA?s compliance with
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) allows transportation officials
to make project decisions that balance engineering and transportation needs
with social, economic, and natural environmental factors. During the process,
a wide range of partners including the public, businesses, interest groups,
and agencies at all levels of government, provide input into project and
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:
Exclusions are for actions that do not individually or cumulatively
have a significant environmental effect.
- An Environmental
Assessment is prepared for actions in which the significance of
the environmental impact is not clearly established.
- An Environmental
Impact Statement is prepared for projects where it is known that
the action will have a significant effect on the environment.
Although the size and
apparent complexity of the three levels of NEPA documentation is quite
different, they all serve the same purpose -- to achieve NEPA's goals of
a collaborative decision making process and ultimately to make the public
aware of the rationale behind transportation decision.
In September 2002, President
George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13274.
Titled "Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure
Project Reviews," the order directed Federal agencies like the Corps
of Engineers and EPA to collaborate more effectively to streamline the
environmental review and development of transportation infrastructure projects
advance major transportation projects.
Task Force oversees the implementation of the Executive Order and
monitors the environmental reviews of certain high-priority projects. To
date, the task force has focused on three major areas for early attention:
- integration of transportation
planning and environment;
- analysis of indirect and cumulative
effects on environmental resources; and
- development and review of purpose
and need statements for transportation projects.
Since January 2005, the
environmental reviews for seven priority projects have been completed.
These projects include four highway or bridge projects and three airport
projects (see the Priority
Project Transition List for more details).
Executive orders (EOs)
are one of the ways that U.S. presidents provide direction to Federal agencies.
Unlike a law or a regulation, EOs do not carry the full force of law. Generally
they are not enforceable in court, because they deal with issues of how
the executive branch operates internally rather than imposing requirements
on citizens, corporations, or non-Federal governments. Nevertheless, Executive
orders can be a visible and effective way for presidents to communicate
expectations to Federal agencies, especially on subjects that require the
cooperation of more than one agency.
USDOT/FHWA: NEPA Toolkit. FHWA
policy and implementation of responsibilities under NEPA.
National Environmental Streamlining Initiatives. An overview of DOT/FHWA
streamlining initiative and presentation of case studies.
Green Highways Partnership (GHP).
The GHP is a voluntary, public/private initiative that is revolutionizing
our nation's transportation infrastructure. Through concepts such as integrated planning, regulatory flexibility, and market-based rewards, GHP seeks to incorporate environmental
streamlinig and stewardship into all aspects of the