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NEPA FAQ

The following are questions the Spectrum and Competition Policy Division frequently receives concerning NEPA and EA preparation. The Q&As will be updated regularly as more information becomes available. Please contact the Spectrum and Competition Policy Division at 202-418-1310 for additional questions you may have.

Q. Is it necessary to hire outside environmental consultants, scientists, archaeologists or historians to comply with these rules?

A. The Nationwide Programmatic Agreement requires use of a qualified professional to perform certain aspects of review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Applicants may also need to obtain expert assistance to perform other aspects of environmental review, depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, the Bureau requires that conclusions regarding effects on endangered species be supported by documentation from either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the applicant’s qualified expert.

Q. Which government agency or office can assist us in determining whether or not a proposed construction may require an environmental assessment (EA) under section 1.1307?

A. The Commission is not an expert agency on all environmental matters. Therefore, in evaluating environmental assessments prepared and filed pursuant to NEPA, we defer to the opinions or judgments of other agencies with expertise over a particular subject matter. These agencies can also assist you in determining whether your proposed construction may affect the subject matter over which the agency has expertise, and they can offer suggestions on how to mitigate any impacts. The federal and certain state agencies with expertise and jurisdiction over each of the categories in section 1.1307 are as follows:

Q. Should any other state or local government agency also be contacted to determine the environmental effects of a situation listed under section 1.1307?

A. Yes. You should always contact any and all state and local government offices with responsibility over the affected subject matter, as some of these offices share jurisdiction with a federal agency. In addition, some states have environmental laws and regulations which may be more stringent than federal standards, and you must comply with all relevant laws in addition to the Commission's NEPA rules.

Q. What is the environmental notice process?

A. Information on the requirements for providing notice of applications being submitted to the Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) system can be found here.

Q. What is an EA? What does it look like? How long should it be? How can we obtain a sample of a good EA?

A. An EA is a document which, among other purposes, serves to assist the Bureau staff in understanding the environmental effects of a proposed construction. Thus the document should contain all relevant information necessary for the Bureau staff to make a determination on the extent of any environmental impacts. Rule section 1.1311 details what should be included in an EA, and the Bureau staff has prepared a checklist further describing what we look for in an EA. It is helpful to include as attachments, copies of all relevant correspondence with and permits or authorizations issued by local or state officials. Applicants interested in seeing sample EAs may use the Daily Digest to look up recently approved applications with EAs. The lists of approved applications are released on Wednesdays, and have the following title: ANTENNA STRUCTURE REGISTRATION SERVICE INFORMATION, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION.

Q. Should the EA address all the categories even if only one or two of those listed categories are actually affected?

A. Yes. The EA should be comprehensive in its analysis by discussing the reasons why a particular category is affected as well as the reasons why other categories listed in section 1.1307(a) (b) are not affected by the proposed action. If a proposed tower would be over 450 feet in height, an EA is alwasy required and the EA should also address the tower's potential effects on migratory birds, as discussed in the Note to Section 11307(d). The substantial portion of the analysis should address the categories which are affected by the proposed construction.

Q. What is a "floodplain" referred to in section 1.1307(a)(6)? Is there a difference between a 100-year and a 500-year floodplain?

A. According to Executive Order 11988 referred to in section 1.1307(a)(6), a floodplain is defined as the "lowland and relatively flat area adjoining inland and coastal waters . . . including at a minimum, that area subject to a one percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year." This definition is often referred to as a "100-year floodplain."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program, and the federal agency having lead responsibility for flood hazard assessment and mitigation. FEMA has adopted the 100-year floodplain as the base flood standard for NFIP as that agency is mainly concerned with construction which could potentially harm a 100-year floodplain, rather than a 500-year floodplain, which is an area that has a 0.2 percent chance of a flood in a year. However, FEMA is also concerned with any construction in a 500-year floodplain if the proposed project is considered a "critical action." A "critical action" is defined as any activity for which even a slight chance of flooding is too great. Relying upon FEMA's guidelines, this office understands the term "floodplain" as used in Section 1.1307(a)(6) to refer to either a 100-year floodplain, or a 500year floodplain subject to "critical action" characterization. However, to fully understand these terms and concepts, it is advised that you review FEMA's Further Advice on Executive Order 11988 Floodplain Management, and the U.S. Water Resources Council's Floodplain Management Guidelines for Implementing E.O. 11988, published on February 10, 1978, at page 6030 of volume 43 of the Federal Register.

Q. Since the Commission issued its NEPA Rules in 1986 with certain amendments thereafter, are structures built prior to 1986 exempt from compliance, or must the existing structures be re-evaluated now for environmental compliance?

A. NEPA is a federal policy directive aimed at producing quality agency decisions that take into consideration environmental consequences. NEPA does not set a time frame in which to come into compliance with the law as environmental problems can change with time. Thus, even if you have never filed an EA on a structure because it was constructed prior to 1986, you are required to come into compliance now, under the environmental conditions of the structure as it exists today. Keep in mind, however, that coming into compliance with the NEPA Rules may not require you to file an EA if the conditions under which your structure stands today do not involve any of the categories listed in section 1.1307. It simply requires you to conduct a field investigation on the structure to be sure that no negative environmental problems exist today.

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