As shown in the above figure, the following steps comprise the EA documentation process. Where available, more information can be found by clicking each link.
- Develop Annotated Outline
- Revise Purpose and Need
- Prepare Evaluation of Alternatives
- Select a Preferred Alternative
- Document the Affected Environment and Environmental Consequences
- Prepare Mitigation and Monitoring Commitments
- Determine if the Preferred Alternative has Significant Impacts
What is an Environmental Assessment?
An Environmental Assessment (EA) is a concise document that is prepared for an action where the significance of the social, economic, and environmental impacts are not clearly established (23 CFR 771.115(c), 40 CFR 1508.9). An EA (1) briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI); (2) aids an agency’s compliance with NEPA when no EIS is necessary; and (3) facilitates preparation of an EIS when one is necessary (40 CFR Part 1508.9).
FTA prepares an EA for any action where: (1) the significance of the environmental impacts is uncertain; or (2) a d-list CE is inappropriate because alternatives must be considered or public involvement is needed, but an EIS is not needed. If the grant applicant believes that an EA would be adequate for a project that normally requires an EIS, FTA may proceed with the EA with the caveat that it will be elevated to an EIS should significant impact come to light. 23 CFR Part 771.119. Other EA projects may not fit the criteria for a Categorical Exclusion (CE) but are not expected to require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EA is not merely a disclosure document; it is used by FTA in conjunction with other relevant information to make informed project decisions and to determine whether significant environmental impacts are expected.
The EA should concentrate attention on environmental resources with impacts that may be significant or that could be a discerning factor in alternative selection. Therefore, this approach should result in a much shorter and more focused document than an EIS. An EA details the process through which a project is developed, including the development and consideration of alternatives and the analysis of the impacts. An EA provides an avenue for public involvementthat is not appropriate for a CE. The EA documents compliance with other applicable environmental laws, regulations, and executive orders.
What factors would elevate an EA to an EIS, or demote it to a CE?
FTA requires an EA to be prepared if further investigation is needed to determine if a project would significantly affect the quality of the human and natural environment and require an EIS (23 CFR Part 771.119(a)). The factors that FTA considers when deciding between preparing an EA or an EIS for a project are described in “Determining the Class of Action”.
If a proposed project uses parkland or a historic site requiring the consideration of alternatives under Section 4(f), relocating the project into a commercial or industrial area where no residences, parks, or other sensitive properties would be affected, or onto existing transportation right-of-way may allow the project that originally required an EA to be processed with a documented CE.
How to Prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA)
The following flowchart shows the process of preparing an EA from initiation to completion.