The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws ever written that establishes a broad national framework for protecting our environment. In short, NEPA assures that all branches of government given proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that could significantly affect the environment. A summary of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC)'s procedures for successfully implementing NEPA is below. The SLSDC's comprehensive rule for NEPA compliance, as published in the Federal Register and as effective on May 28, 1981, is also available for download and review.
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published regulations on the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (43 FR 55978). The CEQ regulations direct Federal Agencies to adopt procedures to implement the regulations (40 CFR 1507.3). The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC), an operating administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has set forth specific responsibilities and instructions for implementation of CEQ regulations. These implementing procedures outline only the SLSDC-specific actions needed for compliance with the NEPA process.
Environmental Processing Choices
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) shall be prepared for any proposed major Federal Action significantly affecting the environment. Listed below are types of SLSDC actions which normally require preparation of an EIS:
- A Legislative EIS will be prepared to accompany a bill or legislative proposal to Congress, recommended by the SLSDC, significantly affecting the quality of the human environment
- Major construction programs - Involving significant disturbances to earth, air or water
The following actions are not major Federal actions with a significant impact on the environment, and do not require either an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement:
- Administrative procurements
- Personnel Actions
- Project amendments
- Issuance of vessel passage permits, as a matter of route Seaway procedures
- Amendments to the Seaway Regulations
- Reconstruction, repair and maintenance of existing navigation aids and construction of new fixed aids
- De-icing equipment and measures at the locks and lock approaches
- Icebreaking, as limited to the intermediate pool and area approximately three miles above Eisenhower Lock and one half mile below Snell Lock
- Maintenance dredging, as limited to the maintenance of the SLSDC's congressionally mandated 27 foot waterway
- Modifications to and maintenance of lock operating equipment, vessel traffic control equipment, buildings, grounds, floating plant, and existing facilities
- Equipment purchases and operating expenses
- Grants of leases, licenses, permits or easements for use of SLSDC-owned property
An environmental assessment is a document concisely describing the need for the proposal, the environmental impacts of a proposed action, its alternatives, and a list of agencies and persons consulted. If a decision has not been made to prepare an EIS and a proposed action has not been classified as a categorical exclusion, an environmental assessment shall be prepared. The assessment will be the basis for the SLSDC's determination to prepare an EIS or to publish a finding of no significant impact:
- Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) - If the environmental assessment reveals tha the proposed action will not have a significant impact on the environment, a FONSI shall be prepared. Notice of availability will be provided to the public.
- If the proposed action is similar to one which normally requires an EIS, the nature of the action is without precedent, or the action is likely to have more than minimal impact, or is inconsistent with any law related to the environment, a copy of the environmental assessment shall be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation and documents will be made available to the public.
Preparation and Processing of Draft Environmental Statements
At the SLSDC, the Director of the Office of Engineering and Maintenance is responsible for the preparation and processing of draft Environmental Impact Statements. The SLSDC's General Counsel shall review all SLSDC environmental statements for legal sufficiency.
The Director shall commence preparation of the draft EIS at the earliest practical time after receipt of notification of the proposed action and determination that the action will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Director shall circulate the draft EIS for comment to (i) all Federal agencies which have jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to the environmental impact involved; (ii) interested parties; (iii) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Officer of Federal Activities; and (iv) the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Ensuring Environmental Documents are Actually Considered in Agency Decision Making
To ensure the adequate consideration of environmental documents in SLSDC decision making, the SLSDC shall:
- Consider all relevant environmental documents in evaluating proposals for agency action
- Make all relevant environmental documents, comments and responses part of the record in formal rule making or adjudicatory proceedings
- Ensure that all relevant environmental documents, comments and responses accompany the proposal through existing agency review processes
- Consider only those alternatives encompassed by the range of alternatives discussed in the relevant environmental documents when evaluating proposals for agency action
- Where an EIS has been prepared, consider the specific alternatives analyzed in the EIS when evaluating the proposal which is the subject of the EIS.
As soon as the Director decides that an Environmental Statement is to be prepared, the Director shall solicit citizen comments by any or all of the following means: conducting hearings, making personal contact with interested parties, issuing press releases, placing notices in newspapers, and publishing a notice of intent in the Federal Register. Citizen involvement and environmental issues raised in the public commenting process will be documented in the environmental statement. The Director shall determine whether a public hearing is required and shall consider the following factors in making this determination: the magnitude of the costs, environmental impact, degree of interest evidenced by the public, the complexity of the issue and the extent to which public involvement has been achieved through other means. If a public hearing is to be held, the Director shall make the draft EIS or environmental assessment available to the public at least 30 days prior to the hearing.
Final Environmental Impact Statement
- Preparation - The draft statement shall be revised as appropriate, reflecting comments received, issues raised, preferred alternatives, and measures to mitigate adverse impacts. The final statement shall reflect consultation and efforts made to resolve issues raised, including an explanation of why any remaining issues have not been resolved
- Legal Review - All SLSDC final environmental statements shall be reviewed for legal sufficiency by the Corporation's General Counsel or his/her designee. The legal review should be completed within 30 days after receipt of the statement. When the review is complete, the General Counsel will return the statement to the Director for final processing
- Internal Processing - Final environmental impact statements may be approved by the Administrator or a designee originating the action, but only after concurrence by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Final Processing - Two copies of the final environmental statement, together with all comments received on the draft, shall be submitted for concurrence. The final statement may be deemed to be concurred in unless, within two weeks after its receipt, DOT notifies the Director to the contrary or requests an extension of the review period or unless it is a statement including a section 4(f) determination. (Final statements for actions with section 4(f) involvement may be deemed concurred in by DOT after 30 days.)
- Availability pending approval - Proposed final statements, with a notation that the statement is not approved and filled, should be made available to the public and other Federal, State or local agencies prior to final approval and filing with the EPA.
- Availability of Statements to EPA and the Public - After approval, copies of final statements shall be transmitted to the EPA and other commenting agencies as well as to the public.
- Record of Decision - The Director shall prepare a draft record of decision which shall accompany the proposed final EIS through the approval process.
Proposals for Legislation
An EIS shall be prepared for any SLSDC originated legislative proposal or when the SLSDC develops the Departmental position on the report on proposed legislation for which DOT is primarily responsible.
Timing of SLSDC Actions
No decision shall be made on a proposed action sooner than the later of the following dates:
- Thirty (30) days after a final EIS covering the action has been submitted to the EPA, as measured from the date the EPA publishes a notice of the final EIS's availability in the Federal Register; or
- Ninety (90) days after a draft EIS has been made available to the public, as measured from the date the EPA publishes a notice of the draft EIS's availability in the Federal Register
When SLSDC officials believe it is necessary to shorten the prescribed time periods for EIS processing, consultation with the EPA through DOT is necessary. In those cases when emergency circumstances make it necessary to take action with significant environmental impacts without observing the provisions of this plan, the SLSDC will consult with the CEQ through DOT.