What is involved in the environmental review process?
The environmental review process for the GCL will be performed in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970 and was the first major environmental law in the United States. Compliance with NEPA’s implementing regulations is necessary for a project to be eligible for federal capital funds.
The environmental review process is aimed at ensuring that environmental information is available to the public and public officials before decisions are made and actions are undertaken by agencies. There are several levels of environmental review under NEPA. For the GCL project, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the most comprehensive level of environmental documentation, is being prepared. An EIS documents the potential social, economic, and environmental benefits and impacts of a proposed project or action and proposes measures to mitigate any adverse impacts. Public participation is a requirement and fundamental component of the environmental review process. There are two key points in the NEPA process where public participation is particularly focused: (1) during Scoping and (2) following the publication of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
The EIS Process
Notice of Intent: The (EIS) process begins with the FTA’s publication of a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register. Complete
Public Scoping: The scoping phase of the process provides the opportunity for the public and government agencies to review information on the GCL and offer comments with the intent of establishing the scope and content of the EIS. Complete
Draft EIS (DEIS) Preparation: A Draft EIS is a report that documents the environmental conditions, describes the possible social, economic, and environmental impacts and benefits of the project, and identifies proposed mitigation measures. The preparation of the DEIS involves extensive environmental analysis supported by planning and engineering work.
Formal Public Comment on DEIS: Once the Draft EIS is published, Public Hearings will be held to obtain comments from the public and government agencies about the Draft EIS.
Final EIS (FEIS): Following completion of the DEIS review period, the comments received will be addressed and incorporated into a FEIS document which is published and made available. The public will have a chance to review and comment on the FEIS.
Record of Decision (ROD): After receiving public and agency comments on the FEIS, DRPA will request a Record of Decision (ROD) by the FTA. The ROD concludes the EIS process, confirms compliance with environmental regulations and specifies the environmental mitigations to be implemented as part of the project.
Environmental Regulations / Guidelines
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will guide the GCL Project Team in preparation of the EIS in coordination with FTA’s policies for NEPA compliance. In addition, the environmental review process will follow and comply with:
- Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act
- Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Act of 1966
- Other applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
Notice of Intent
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process began with the FTA’s publication of a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register. The Notice of Intent is published on the Federal Register’s website and is available for download here.
Scoping is an early and open process to determine the scope (breadth) of issues to be addressed and to identify the most significant issues related to a proposed project. It is an important part of the NEPA process and serves as an opportunity for the public and government agencies to provide timely input at the outset of the EIS phase.
During scoping, the plan for how the environmental review is going to be conducted is issued in draft form. It is known as the Draft Scoping Document whereupon the public and agencies are invited to offer comments on this plan. The Draft Scoping Document includes information about the project including:
- The Purpose and Need of the project;
- The Alternatives to be analyzed; and
- The potential impacts and benefits of the project.
In addition, it explains how the public and agencies can get involved. The scoping process includes public meetings at which the public, organizations and government agencies are encouraged to provide their comments. Comments should focus on the three elements above and can be provided orally or in written form.
The ultimate goal of scoping is to assist the lead agency in defining the social, economic and environmental issues and alternatives to be examined and documented in the EIS; identifying significant issues for detailed study while eliminating from detailed study those issues that are not significant; as well as establishing the roles of other agencies and processes for coordinating the environmental review.
At the conclusion of the scoping period, the lead agencies for the EIS will review all scoping comments received and finalize the Scoping Report including the Purpose and Need, Alternatives to be analyzed, the issues to be addressed by the EIS, as well as outline a schedule for the remaining steps of the environmental review process. The Final Scoping Report will be issued to all participating agencies and posted on the project website.