FRA & NEPA
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requires Federal agencies to account for the environmental impacts of Federal-government actions. NEPA establishes a national environmental policy and provides a framework for environmental planning and decision-making 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 requires, to the fullest extent possible, that the policies, regulations, and laws of the Federal government be interpreted and administered in accordance with NEPA’s environmental protection goals. Federal implementation of NEPA is the charge of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which interpreted the law and addressed NEPA’s action forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance.
Per the requirements of NEPA, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is committed to the examination and avoidance of potential impacts to the social and natural environment when considering approval of proposed transportation projects. FRA begins the process of considering the environmental impacts of a proposed project in consultation with appropriate Federal, State, and local authorities as well as with the public at the earliest practical time in the project planning process.
As of November 28, 2018, FRA conducts environmental reviews according to its revised NEPA legislation and regulations contained in 23 CFR Part 771 Environmental Impact and Related Procedures, and 23 CFR Part 774, Parks, Recreation Areas, Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuges, and Historic Sites(Section 4(f)) for transportation projects.
For environmental reviews started prior to November 28, 2018, FRA will complete those reviews in accordance with FRA’s Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts (64 Federal Register [FR] 28545, May 26, 1999).
Environmental Division Updates
DOT Publishes Final Rule – Continuing Efforts to Streamline the Environmental Process
On October 29, 2018, FRA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published a Final Rule in the Federal Register amending 23 CFR Part 771, Environmental Impact and Related Procedures, and 23 CFR Part 774, Parks, Recreation Areas, Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuges, and Historic Sites (Section 4(f)). The regulation is effective November 28, 2018.
The Final Rule adds FRA to 23 CFR Parts 771 and 774. It also includes updates responding to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) and allows FRA to follow the same flexible environmental procedures as FHWA and FTA.
Environmental Streamlining Final Rule (23 CFR Parts 771 and 774)
This regulation increases efficiency for the preparation of environmental documents and accelerates project delivery by providing new tools for FRA and project sponsors to use, including:
- Applying the same environmental regulations (and Section 4(f) requirements, 23 CFR Part 774) to rail projects that FHWA and FTA already use.
- Updating and expanding the number of categorical exclusions for rail projects.
- Allowing FRA to use FHWA and FTA categorical exclusions as appropriate.
One Federal Decision (Executive Order 13807 and Memorandum of Understanding 2018)
One Federal Decision Executive Order (E.O.) 13807, Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects, was issued on August 15, 2017. It requires Federal agencies to process environmental reviews and authorization decisions for “major infrastructure projects” as One Federal Decision and sets a government-wide goal of reducing, to two years, the average time for each agency to complete the required environmental reviews and authorization decisions for major infrastructure projects, as measured from the date of publication of a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS).
Per E.O. 13807, a "major infrastructure project" is defined as an infrastructure project for which multiple authorizations by Federal agencies will be required to proceed with construction, the lead Federal agency has determined that it will prepare an EIS under NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and the project sponsor has identified the reasonable availability of funds sufficient to complete the project.
On April 9, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation and several other Departments, including Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, signed a Memorandum of Understanding implementing the One Federal Decision under E.O. 13807.
Section 106 Program Comment to Exempt Consideration of Effects to Rail Properties for Rail Rights-of-Way
The Final Section 106 Program Comment was approved by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) on August 17, 2018. The full text is available in the ACHP’s Federal Register Notice published on August 24, 2018. The Program Comment is available for use by any Federal agency having an undertaking that may affect rail properties located in railroad or rail transit rights-of-way (ROW).
The Final Program Comment is comprised of two parts: 1) A comprehensive list of maintenance, repair, and upgrade activities that are likely to have effects to historic rail properties that are minimal or not adverse and are therefore exempt from Section 106 review (exempted activities list); and 2) An optional Project Sponsor-led, property-based approach that ultimately may further streamline the Section 106 review process for transportation-related projects in railroad and rail transit ROW. Questions regarding application of the Program Comment to FRA projects may be sent to: FRA.106Exemption@dot.gov .
- Thursday, December 6, 2018: Section 106 Program Comment to Exempt Consideration of Effects to Rail Properties within Rail Rights-of-Way Webinar
Permitting Dashboard for Federal Infrastructure Projects
The Permitting Dashboard is an online tool for Federal agencies, project developers, and the public to track the Federal government’s permitting and review process for large and complex infrastructure projects. The primary objectives of the Dashboard are to increase transparency and to shorten review timelines while improving environmental and community outcomes. The Dashboard achieves these objectives by encouraging early coordination and synchronization of agency review schedules, and making public information easily accessible. FRA enters project schedules and milestones into the Dashboard for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA) started after October 2015 and the enactment of the FAST Act, or by request.
Updated November 2018