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Categorical Exclusion

What is a Categorical Exclusion (CE)?
According to the Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), “[c]ategorical exclusion means a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment ... and ... for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required]” (40 CFR Part 1508.4).

A Categorical Exclusion (CE) is the most common type of NEPA approval FTA processes.  The joint Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulation 23 CFR Part 771.117(a) identifies the types of actions that qualify for CE determinations:

…actions which meet the definition contained in 40 CFR 1508.4, and, based on past experience with similar actions, do not involve significant environmental impacts. They are actions which: do not induce significant impacts to planned growth or land use for the area, do not require the relocation of significant numbers of people; do not have a significant impact on any natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other resource; do not involve significant air, noise, or water quality impacts; do not have significant impacts on travel patterns; or do not otherwise, either individually or cumulatively, have any significant environmental impacts.

There are two types of CEs that FTA uses to complete the NEPA process for projects meeting the above criteria: those listed in 23 CFR Part 771.117(c) are referred to as the “c-list CEs” and those listed in 23 CFR Part 771.117(d) are referred to as the “d-list CEs.”C-list CEs normally require a simple administrative approval (e.g. checking a box in FTA’s electronic grants management system) because experience shows that these generally routine projects do not normally involve significant environmental impacts. For d-list CEs, the grant applicant is required to submit documentation to the FTA that demonstrates that the specific conditions for CEs are satisfied and that significant environmental effects will not result. Both c-list and d-list CEs may be designated as CEs only after FTA approval.

Provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) require modifications to the existing CE lists, including inclusion of additional CEs.  Revisions will be forthcoming after the completion of rulemaking efforts.

How to Prepare Documentation for a Categorical Exclusion (CE)
The CEs appearing in the d-list are the primary examples of such CEs, but the list is open-ended and projects similar to the examples listed may also qualify.  The criteria for a project’s eligibility for a CE determination by FTA include: (1) the preferred site for the project does not raise any issues that would necessitate the consideration of alternative sites; and (2) an opportunity for public involvement is not needed (note, public involvement required for a Section 4(f) de minimis impact determination alone would not affect a project’s eligibility for a CE determination).

The following flowchart shows the process to follow when preparing a CE.
[CE Flowchart Graphic Under Development]

What is contained in a d-list CE?
A d-list CE must include documentation demonstrating that significant environment effects would not result from the proposed project. However, the CE documentation content varies across the country because it depends on the environmental issues of primary importance in any particular region.  Therefore, grant applicants should contact the appropriate FTA Region office before beginning work on a CE to learn the appropriate CE approval process to follow. Generally, a d-list CE format includes the following.

  • A brief project descriptionincluding a study area map showing the project footprint and surrounding land parcels, and the buildings, land uses, water bodies, and other relevant features of those parcels.
  • A summary of impacts with details provided for those few impacts that may be issues.
  • Commitments to project design features and other measures to minimize or eliminate impacts.
  • Attachments (or incorporation by reference, where possible) of any technical memoranda or reports which support the document

The CE documentation need not address purpose and need, but on occasion FTA requests inclusion of a project justification similar to the “purpose and need” to demonstrate the project’s eligibility for FTA funding assistance. 
The FTA regional office may provide a CE worksheet upon request to assist in preparing the CE documentation with focus on the few issues relevant to the proposed project.

What environmental resources should be evaluated for a d-list CE?
The environmental issues encountered for a CE should be minimal and should only be those resources that apply to the project under consideration. A CE (“documented” or not) excludes the project from detailed analysis under NEPA (i.e., an EA or EIS); therefore, the focus of a d-list CE should be to consider environmental and community impacts associated with the project and to clearly demonstrate that no significant adverse impacts would result.

How does FTA approve a d-list CE?
FTA will review the documentation provided and may require more information about the particular issues or the project description and location in general.  Once FTA is convinced that the CE is appropriate, FTA will document its approval by letter or email or in the on-line grant application and approval information in TEAM.  Any design or other commitments to lessen adverse impacts will be monitored during construction through TEAM milestones.  The grant applicant must include such milestone or milestones in the on-line application upon approval of the CE by FTA.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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