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Bureau of Land Management - NEPA Review Overview (9-FD-a)

Information current as of 2016
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must complete an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) whenever a project includes a major federal action. If the BLM exercises control over the implementation of the action such that the effect can be meaningfully evaluated, NEPA analysis is required.

The NEPA requires Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposed action, and any reasonable alternatives, before deciding whether and in what form to take an action. Environmental reviews prepared under NEPA should provide a decision maker with relevant and timely information, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations make it clear that “NEPA’s purpose is not to generate paperwork--even excellent paperwork--but to foster excellent action.”

Complying with NEPA can take these forms:

  1. a Categorical Exclusion
  2. a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (Supplemental Information Report)
  3. an Environmental Assessment
  4. an Environmental Impact Statement

NEPA analyses must be prepared using an interdisciplinary approach, and the disciplines of the preparers must be appropriate to the scope of the analysis and to the issues identified in the scoping process (40 C.F.R. § 1502.6). The requirement for an interdisciplinary approach is met when preparer(s) consult with all appropriate sources for the analysis of affected resources. This may include staff from other BLM offices or other Federal or non-Federal agencies, as needed, to provide a rational basis for decision-making.

Occasionally, the BLM has funds to distribute to non-Federal entities to perform NEPA work on lands not administered by the BLM. If the BLM distributes the funds according to a predetermined formula or through a State clearing house for subsequent distribution to projects not individually identified, then the NEPA is not triggered.

Bureau of Land Management - NEPA Review Overview Process

9-FD-a.1 - Identify a Need for Action and Develop a Proposal

There are many different types of applications that can trigger the NEPA process resulting in an Environmental Impact Statement. Examples include:

Bureau of Land Management - Notice of Intent to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations - Form 3200-9

Exploration Application Process BLM:

Bureau of Land Management - Geothermal Drilling Permit - Form 3260-002

Drilling Application Process:

Bureau of Land Managment - Right-of-Way for Surface Occupancy - Form SF-299

Land Access Process Overview (Geothermal)

Land Access Process Overview (Solar)

Land Access Process Overview (Transmission)

Bureau of Land Management - Transmission Right-of-Way:
3-FD-c (2)

Utilization Application Process:

Utilization Plan Utilization Application Process:

NEPA requires that any geothermal project that sells power to a federal entity, moves power over a federal transmission line, or uses federal funding or federal land must undergo an environmental analysis in order to determine the project's potential impact on the environment. Therefore, NEPA applies to federal geothermal projects, or leasing of federal land for geothermal projects.

Frequently, private individuals or companies will become involved in the NEPA process when they need a permit issued by a Federal agency. When a company applies for a permit (for example, for crossing federal lands or impacting waters of the United States) the agency that is being asked to issue the permit must evaluate the environmental effects of the permit decision under NEPA. Federal agencies might require the private company or developer to pay for the preparation of analyses, but the agency remains responsible for the scope and accuracy of the analysis.

An agency should first consider integrating the NEPA process into planning when it structures its internal process for developing a proposed policy, program, management plan, or project. Agencies must integrate the NEPA process into their planning at the earliest possible time to ensure that planning and decisions reflect environmental values, avoid delays later in the process, and anticipate and attempt to resolve potential issues. NEPA should not become an after-the-fact process that justifies decisions that have entirely, or in large part, already been made.

NEPA set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and the more substantial Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). These two types of assessments address endangered species, air emissions, water, visual impact, land use, etc. The purpose of an EA is to determine if there will be significant effects resulting from development of a geothermal resource, while an EIS is used to analyze and disclose the significant effects resulting from such development. An EA is typically a shorter document, offers fewer opportunities for public comment or involvement, and has fewer procedural requirements and, therefore, generally takes less time to prepare than an EIS.

Advanced planning for initially non-Federal actions must also ensure that the Federal agency is able to initiate early consultation with appropriate Tribes, States, local agencies, and interested private persons and organizations when Federal involvement is reasonably foreseeable. For actions initiated at the request of a non-Federal entity, Federal agencies should begin the NEPA process for preparing their EA or EIS as early as possible but no later than upon receipt of a complete application. Federal agencies should, whenever possible, guide applicants to gather and develop the appropriate level of information and analyses in advance of submitting an application or other request for federal agency action. For example, several agencies require an applicant to prepare and submit an environmental report to help prepare the NEPA analyses and documentation and facilitate the lead agency’s independent environmental review of the proposal.

CEQ encourages Federal agencies to collaborate with Tribal, State, and local governments to the fullest extent possible to reduce duplication, unless the agencies are specifically barred from doing so by some other law. The CEQ Regulations explicitly provide for agencies to conduct joint planning processes, joint environmental research and studies, joint public hearings (except where otherwise provided by statute), and joint environmental assessments. Federal agencies should explore every reasonable opportunity to integrate the requirements of NEPA with the external planning and environmental reviews required on the Federal as well as the State, Tribal, and local levels of government so that those reviews can run concurrently rather than consecutively.

9-FD-a.2 - Form Interdisciplinary Team

The agency project manager reviews the proposal and then selects the resource specialists for the interdisciplinary team (ID Team)for preparation of the NEPA document. The ID Team may be directly involved in the analysis and writing of specific sections or may work with a consultant that is preparing the document. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.6

9-FD-a.3 - Facilitate Kickoff Meeting

A kickoff meeting is essential for conducting NEPA analysis and prepration of the NEPA document. Participants in this meeting should include every one that is engaged in the project: the developer/proponent, agency ID Team members, and subcontractor representatives to assure that all understand the nature of the proposed action; the NEPA process, including necessary consultations and resource studies that may be necessary; their respective roles and responsibilities; and establish a project schedule.

9-FD-a.4 to 9-FD-a.6 - Is an On-Site Evaluation Required?

The agency will determine whether an on-site evaluation is required. An on-site evaluation may not be required for activities covered under casual use or categorical exclusion (CE). 40 C.F.R. § 1508.4.

If an On-Site Evaluation has not yet been completed, it is conducted to evaluate the potential impacts from the activity.

If an On-Site Evaluation has been completed, the Agency will evaluate the significance of impacts from proposed activity.

On-Site Evaluation: 10 (1)

9-FD-a.7 to 9-FD-a.11 - Is Scoping Required?

The scoping process identifies land use issues and conflicts. These issues may stem from new information or changed circumstances, the need to address environmental protection concerns, or a need to reassess the appropriate mix of allowable uses based on new information.

Scoping is the first stage of the planning process and closely involves the public with identifying issues,providing resource and other information, and developing planning criteria to guide preparation of the NEPA document scoping is the process required by the CEQ for EISs by which the BLM solicits input on the issues and impacts that will be addressed in a NEPA document as well as the degree to which those issues and impacts will be analyzed. The intent of scoping is to focus the analysis on significant issues and reasonable alternatives, to eliminate extraneous discussion, and to reduce the length of the EIS. No guidance is provided by the CEQ for the length of scoping periods. Check individual program guidance for any prescribed minimum periods. Scoping must be conducted both internally with appropriate BLM staff, and externally with interested and affected public, agencies, tribes, and organizations (40 C.F.R. § 1501.7).

Formal public scoping begins following publication of an NOI. Informal internal and external scoping may occur before the formal scoping period begins. Scoping can provide valuable information in identifying issues related to cumulative effects.

The CEQ regulations at 40 C.F.R. § 1501.7 require the following in an agency’s scoping process:

  • Invite participation from affected Federal, State, local, and tribal organizations and interested persons.
  • Determine the scope or extent of the EIS and the significant issues to be analyzed. Scoping is valuable in identifying connected, cumulative, and similar actions.
  • Eliminate those issues raised that are not related to potentially significant impacts or those that have been covered in other environmental documents.
  • Make assignments for preparation of the EIS between the lead and cooperating agencies.
  • Identify any environmental documents being prepared that have relevance to, but are not part of, the scope of this EIS.
  • Identify other environmental review and consultation requirements.
  • Discuss the relationship between the timing of the preparation of the EIS and the agency’s tentative planning and decision-making schedule.

Internal Scoping
Internal scoping is simply the use of BLM and cooperating agency staff to help determine what needs to be analyzed in a NEPA document. Internal scoping is an interdisciplinary process that at a minimum, uses scoping to define issues, alternatives, and data needs. Additionally, this is an opportunity to identify other actions that may be analyzed in the same NEPA document. Internal scoping is used to:

  • formulate and refine the purpose and need.
  • identify any connected, cumulative, or similar actions associated with the proposal.
  • start preparation for cumulative effects analysis.
  • decide on the appropriate level of documentation.
  • develop a public involvement strategy.
  • decide other features of the NEPA process.

External Scoping
External scoping involves notification and opportunities for feedback from other agencies, organizations, tribes, local governments, and the public. External scoping does not need to occur at the same time as internal scoping. Frequently, internal scoping is conducted first to develop a preliminary range of alternatives and issues. These alternatives and issues may then be shared during external scoping, and to build upon these preliminary issues as scoping continues.

External scoping can be used to identify coordination needs with other agencies; refine issues through public, tribal and agency feedback on preliminary issues; and identify new issues and possible alternatives. Tribal consultation centers on established government-to-government relationships, and it is important to allow sufficient time and use the appropriate means of contacting tribes when conducting scoping. External scoping serves to build agency credibility and promote constructive dialogue and relations with tribes, agencies, local governments and the public.

The CEQ Regulations mandate external scoping for EISs, and such scoping has formal requirements. The time-limited scoping period that follows the publication of a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS is referred to as formal scoping. However, scoping should not be limited for an EIS to the formal scoping period.

External scoping may help identify alternatives to the proposed action, as well as refine the proposed action. External scoping may result in refinement of issues for analysis. Preliminary issues may be clarified and new issues identified in the external scoping process. External scoping is used to identify past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions by others that could have a cumulative effect together with the BLM action. External scoping can be used to identify permits, surveys, or consultations required by other agencies. Scoping may also generate information that may be used during the permitting or consultation process.

External scoping methods include but are not limited to: Federal Register notices, public meetings, field trips, direct mailing, media releases, newsletters, NEPA registers, and email notifications. The developer may also seek help from other agencies, organizations, tribes, local governments, and the public in identifying interested parties that may not yet have been reached by scoping efforts.

Additional Information

  • In addition to publishing the NOI in the Federal Register, BLM recommends a notice announcing the beginning of the formal scoping process be published in local newspapers and be sent to interested agencies, organizations, and other stakeholders.
  • Even if a contractor is hired, BLM still works to develop the contract, meets frequently with the contractor, reviews all products, and develops necessary partnerships with counties, the state, Tribes, other Federal agencies, and other BLM offices.

Scoping reports should discuss the issues raised during the scoping process, the issues to be addressed in the EIS, the issues that will not be addressed in the EIS and why, a list of participants in the scoping process, and the views of those participants. See the BLM's web guide with examples of scoping reports.

Scoping is one form of public involvement in the NEPA process. Scoping occurs early in the NEPA process and generally extends through the development of alternatives. A minimum 30-day comment period on issues and planning criteria is also provided.

Include the following statement in all information requesting public comment: “Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, be advised that your entire comment –including your personal identifying information –may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold from public review your personal identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.”

9-FD-a.12 - Are Environmental Impacts Likely to Be Significant?

CEQ Regulations provide for “scoping.” In scoping, the lead agency determines the issues that it's EA or EIS will address and identifies the significant issues related to the proposed action that will be considered in the analysis. To increase efficiency, the lead agency can solicit cooperation at the earliest possible time from other agencies that have jurisdiction by law or special expertise on any environmental issue that should be considered. Cooperating agencies with jurisdiction by law or special expertise can work with the lead agency to ensure that, whenever possible, one NEPA review process informs all the decisions needed to determine whether and, if so, how a proposed action will proceed.

Scoping should also be used to begin inter- and intra-governmental coordination if it is not already ongoing. To accomplish these goals, the lead agency preparing an EA or an EIS can choose to invite the participation of affected Federal, State, and local agencies, any affected Indian tribe, the proponent of the action, and “other interested persons (including those who might not be in accord with the action on environmental grounds). In addition to facilitating coordination and the development of required environmental reviews, scoping will help to identify the universe of matters that need to be addressed with particular care and flag issues for thorough consideration, thereby defusing potential conflict that, absent early attention, could arise later and potentially delay the timely completion of the relevant NEPA review.

The CEQ CEQ Regulations explicitly address the role of scoping in preparation of an EIS. Agencies can also choose to take advantage of scoping when preparing an EA that deals with uncertainty or controversy regarding potential conflicts over the use of resources or the environmental effects of the proposed action. For example, a lead agency preparing such an EA may use scoping to identify and eliminate from detailed study the issues that are not significant or that have been covered by prior environmental review. The scoping process provides a transparent way to identify significant environmental issues and to de-emphasize insignificant issues, thereby focusing the analysis on the most pertinent issues and impacts.

The term “significant” has specific meaning in the context of NEPA. The CEQ Regulations explain in 40 C.F.R. § 1508.27:

‘Significantly’ as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity
(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, for a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short-term and long-term effects are relevant.
(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of effect. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action….” (40 C.F.R. § 1508.27).

9-FD-a.13 to 9-FD-a.14 - Is the Proposed Activity Covered Under the Categorical Exclusion Rule?

If the proposed action is not categorically excluded and will have a significant environmental impact, the lead agency must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). (40 C.F.R. § 1502.1)

Categorical Exclusion (CE)
A CE is a category of actions that is expected not to have individually or cumulatively significant environmental impacts. Each agency’s procedures for implementing NEPA sets out that agency’s CEs, which are established after CEQ and public review. A proposed action within such a category is excluded from further analysis and documentation in an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement. A CE can be concluded with a determination that a proposed action falls within one of the categories of actions and there are no extraordinary circumstances indicating further environmental review is warranted. Properly developed and applied, Categorical Exclusions provide an efficient tool to complete the NEPA environmental review process for proposals that normally do not require more resource-intensive EAs or EISs. The use of Categorical Exclusions can reduce paperwork and delay for proposed actions that do not raise the potential for significant environmental effects.

The application of a (CE) can be limited by extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances are factors or circumstances in which a normally excluded action may have a significant environmental effect that then requires further analysis in an EA or EIS. When evaluating whether to apply a CE to a proposed activity, an agency must consider the specific circumstances associated with the activity and may not end its review based solely on the determination that the activity fits within the description of a CE; rather, the agency must also consider whether there are extraordinary circumstances that would warrant further NEPA review. Agencies should review their existing extraordinary circumstances concurrently with the review of their CEs. If an agency revises or identifies an extraordinary circumstance, it should make sure that the revised version clearly identifies the circumstance when further environmental evaluation in an EA or EIS is warranted. Any new or revised extraordinary circumstances must be issued together with the new or revised CE in draft form and then in final form.

Example of extraordinary circumstances - the potential effects on a protected species, species habitat, or historic properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

9-FD-a.15 - Decision Memo

A Decision Memo is prepared for signature and approval by the authorized BLM officer for proposed activities covered by a Categorical Exclusion. The Decision Memo must identify the decision to be implemented and the reasons for categorically excluding the proposed action. Specifically, the Decision Memo must state the category of the proposed action, the rationale for using the category and a finding that no extraordinary circumstances exist. Finally, the Decision Memo must indicate a date of implementation, whether the decision is subject to review or appeal, and the applicable regulations.

9-FD-a.16 - Complete Extraordinary Circumstances Checklist

Prior to issuing a Decision Memo, the BLM will complete the BLM Extraordinary Circumstances Checklist. A categorical exclusion can only be concluded with a determination that a proposed action falls within one of the categories of actions ‘’’and’’’ there are no extraordinary circumstances indicating further environmental review is warranted. Thus, the extraordinary circumstances checklist must be completed. If any of the answers are checked "yes," then an EA must be prepared.

9-FD-a.17 - Is the Proposed Activity Covered by an Existing NEPA Document?

A new proposed action may rely on a single or multiple existing NEPA document(s) that sufficiently covered environmental analysis of the proposed action. 43 C.F.R. § 46.120

The NEPA documents that may be relevant include:

  • EISs associated with BLM Resource Management Plans;
  • EISs or EAs associated with Resource Management Plan Amendments;
  • EISs or EAs on BLM programmatic actions;
  • EISs or EAs associated with BLM activity plans, projects, or permit approval actions;
  • EISs or EAs prepared by other agencies, including those on programmatic, land use, and activity or project-specific plans or actions, with the BLM as a cooperating agency; and
  • EISs or EAs prepared by other agencies without the BLM as a cooperating agency.

Review existing environmental documents and answer the following question to determine whether they adequately cover a proposed action currently under consideration:

  • Is the new proposed action a feature of, or essentially similar to, an alternative analyzed in the existing NEPA document(s)? Is the project within the same analysis area, or if the project location is different, are the geographic and resource conditions sufficiently similar to those analyzed in the existing NEPA document(s)? If there are differences, can you explain why they are not substantial?
  • Is the range of alternatives analyzed in the existing NEPA document(s) appropriate with respect to the new proposed action, given current environmental concerns, interests, and resource values?
  • Is the existing analysis valid in light of any new information or circumstances (such as rangeland health standard assessments, recent endangered species listings, updated lists of BLM-sensitive species)? Can you reasonably conclude that new information and new circumstances would not substantially change the analysis of the new proposed action?
  • Are the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects that would result from implementation of the new proposed action similar (both quantitatively and qualitatively) to those analyzed in the existing NEPA document?

The developer should consider whether the project may be moved in order to be in compliance with existing NEPA documents.

9-FD-a.18 - Complete DNA Checklist

A Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) confirms that an action is adequately analyzed in existing NEPA document(s) and is in conformance with the land use plan. The DNA worksheet is not itself a NEPA document. The DNA worksheet documents the review to determine whether the existing NEPA documents can satisfy the NEPA requirements for the proposed action currently under consideration.

9-FD-a.19 - DNA

Prepared by the BLM, the DNA identifies previously prepared NEPA documents which adequately describe the environmental consequences of a newly proposed action.

9-FD-a.20 - Prepare Environmental Assessment

If the proposed activity is not covered under a CE or is covered under the CE and includes extraordinary circumstances, the BLM must prepare an EA.

Bureau of Land Management-Environmental Assessment (EA) Process:

9-FD-a.21 - Significant Environmental Impact Identified?

If, at any time during the EA preparation, the BLM identifies significant environmental impacts associated with the proposed action, the BLM must prepare an EIS.

9-FD-a.22 - Prepare Environmental Impact Statement

An EIS must be prepared when environmental impacts are likely to be significant or the project has controversial issues. The BLM is responsible for making both determinations.

Bureau of Land Management- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Process:

9-FD-a.23 - Record of Decision

The Record of Decision (ROD) is a document that states what the decision is; identifies the alternatives considered, including the environmentally preferred alternative; and discusses mitigation plans, including any enforcement and monitoring commitments. In the ROD, the agency discusses all the factors, including any considerations of national policy that were contemplated when it reached its decision on whether to, and if so how to, proceed with the proposed action. The ROD will also discuss if all practical means to avoid or minimize environmental harm have been adopted, and if not, why they were not. The ROD must identify those mitigation methods that the agency is adopting and committing to implement, including any monitoring and enforcement program applicable to such mitigation commitments. The ROD is a publicly available document. Sometimes RODs are published in the Federal Register or on the agency’s website, but if the developer is interested in receiving the ROD they should ask the agency’s point of contact how to obtain a copy of the ROD. 40 C.F.R. § 1505.2.

9-FD-a.24 - Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)

A Finding of no significant impact means a document by a Federal agency briefly presenting the reasons why an action, not otherwise excluded, will not have a significant effect on the human environment and for which an environmental impact statement therefore will not be prepared. It shall include the environmental assessment or a summary of it and shall note any other environmental documents related to it. If the assessment is included, the finding need not repeat any of the discussion in the assessment but may incorporate it by reference. Any mitigation commitments needed to lower the level of impacts so that they are not significant should be clearly described in the mitigated FONSI document and in any other relevant decision documents related to the proposed action. Agencies must provide for appropriate public involvement during the development of the EA and FONSI. 40 C.F.R. § 1508.13.

9-FD-a.25 - Decision Record

A Decision Record (BLM) or Decision Notice (USFS) is prepared at the conclusion of the EA and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to document the decision in the administrative records of the field offices. The Decision Record must clearly provide the rationale for the authorized officer's decision.

9-FD-a.26 to 9-FD-a.27 - Is Project on Federal Lands?

If the project is on federally managed lands the agency will prepare and publish a Dear Reader Letter after the Record of Decision (ROD) is signed. The project is not on federal lands but is part of a federal action (ie., DOE funded project) the agency will implement the decision with monitoring as provided in the ROD.

The letter must be signed by the decision-maker responsible for preparing the EIS may be used to request review and comment on the draft. This letter may be used to inform the reader of other details pertinent to the review. For example, if an abbreviated final EIS is anticipated, the letter may suggest that the reader retain the draft for reference. The author should be specific about what he wants the reader to focus on, remembering that the reader can decide which areas to address.

9-FD-a.28 to 9-FD-a.29 - Has an Appeal or Protest Been Filed?

If a protest or appeal has been filed see:

Bureau of Land Management - Appeals Process:

9-FD-a.30 - Implement and Monitor as Provided in the Decision

Agencies have discretion, within their scope of authority, to select an appropriate form and method for monitoring, but they should identify the monitoring area and establish the appropriate monitoring system. Monitoring can be the result of an EIS, EA, or FONSI. For mitigation commitments that warrant rigorous oversight, an Environmental Management System (EMS) or other data or other management system could serve as a useful way to integrate monitoring efforts effectively. Regardless of the method chosen, agencies should make sure mitigation commitments are being performed in compliance with NEPA. The responsibility for developing an implementation monitoring program depends in large part upon who will actually perform the mitigation-the lead Federal agency or cooperative non-Federal partner or a combination of these. The lead agency should ensure that the information about the responsible parties, mitigation requirements and appropriate enforcement clauses are included in documents such as authorizations, agreements, permits, financial assistance awards or contracts. Ultimate monitoring responsibility rests with the lead Federal agency or agencies to assure that the monitoring is occurring when needed and that results are being properly considered. Agencies are expected to apply professional judgment and the rule of reason when identifying those cases that are important and warrant monitoring, and when determining the extent and type of monitoring used. The following is a list of factors agencies should use to determine importance:

  • Legal requirements of statutes, regulations, or permits
  • Human health and safety
  • Protected resources and the proposed action’s impact on them
  • Degree of public interest in the resource or level of public debate over the effects of the proposed action
  • Level of intensity of project impacts

Agencies are encouraged to make proactive, discretionary release of mitigation monitoring reports and other supporting documents, and to make responses to public inquiries regarding mitigation monitoring readily available to the public through online or print media. The public may also assist with actual monitoring through public-private partnership programs. 40 C.F.R. § 1505.3

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