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Preparing Environmental Documents

There are three levels of environmental review and documentation under NEPA called classes of action. Based on the significance of the impacts, classes of action determine how compliance with NEPA is carried out and documented and include:

Categorical Exclusion

A categorical exclusion (CE) is a category of actions that, based on FTA's experience with similar actions, do not involve significant environmental impacts (23 CFR 771.118). Approximately 95 percent of FTA-funded transit projects are processed as CEs. FTA’s NEPA regulations outline two lists for the types of projects that are categorically excluded. The C-list (23 CFR 771.118(c)) is a specific list of CEs that normally require minimal documentation. The D-list (23 CFR 771.118(d)) describes other project types that may quality as a CE if appropriately analyzed, documented, and approved by FTA.

Environmental Assessment

An environmental assessment (EA) is a concise document that is prepared for an action where the significance of the potential social, economic, and environmental impacts are not clearly established (23 CFR 771.119). If an EA demonstrates that the action will not have a significant effect on the environment, the process concludes with a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) (23 CFR 771.121). If, however, FTA determines that a project is likely to have significant impacts that cannot be mitigated to a level below “significant,” an environmental impact statement (EIS) will be prepared. See a graphic of the EA process.

Environmental Impact Statement

An environmental impact statement (EIS) is a detailed written statement for a major federal action that may significantly affect the quality of the human and natural environment (23 CFR 771.123 and 23 CFR 771.125). An EIS includes a discussion of the range of reasonable alternatives that were studied and documents the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives while demonstrating compliance with applicable environmental laws, executive orders, and regulations.

The EIS process begins with a notice of intent (NOI), followed by a draft EIS (23 CFR 771.123). FTA will prepare a combined final environmental impact statement/record of decision (FEIS/ROD) (23 CFR 771.124) to the maximum extent practicable. If a combined FEIS/ROD is not feasible, the traditional approach of separate FEIS (23 CFR 771.125) followed by ROD (23 CFR 771.127) will be utilized.

Related Resources

Outstanding Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Document Preparation: FTA’s biennial Outstanding Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Document Preparation promotes efficient development of effective environmental documents by recognizing FTA-funded project environmental documents that are compliant with NEPA requirements, useful to the public and decision-makers, and developed through streamlined procedures that reduce paperwork and delay.

Planning and Environmental Linkages: Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) is a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process and uses that information to inform the environmental review process. See the FHWA PEL Program page for information on implementing a PEL approach, including guidance materials, case studies, and webinars.

Federal Permitting Dashboard: The Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard is an online tool for federal agencies, project developers, and interested members of the public to track the federal government’s environmental review and authorization processes for large or complex infrastructure projects. FTA must post all new EISs and EAs on the Federal Permitting Dashboard upon project initiation.

Last updated: Thursday, November 5, 2020