The Environmental Review Process - Introduction & Stage 1
What is an Environmental Review?
An environmental review is the process of reviewing a project and its potential environmental impacts to determine whether it meets federal, state, and local environmental standards. There are four main stages to an environmental review.
Stage 1: Early Planning/Assessment Procedures
The RE should initiate environmental reviews as soon as proposed activities are identified. The RE should begin by reviewing the area affected by the proposed project and determine the level of review required. Some activities are more likely to impact the environment than others and therefore, may require a greater, more substantial level of review. The RE can determine the level of review by looking at where its project's activities fall under the requirements of 24 CFR Part 58. Activities can be classified as one of the following:
NOTE: If an activity meets the requirements for exemption, then the grantee can draw down the funds for the project without further action. If the project requires an environmental impact statement only, proceed to Stage 4. In all other cases, proceed to Stage 2.
- Exempt (24 CFR 58.34(a)(1-11))
Activities that by their very nature will have no physical impact upon the environment are exempt from NEPA requirements as well as § 58.5. In these cases, the RE does not need to check for compliance with the requirements or perform an environmental review, consultation, or other action under NEPA. Some examples of activities exempt from NEPA requirements include:
- Technical assistance;
- Administrative and management activities;
- Information and financial services; and
- purchase of tools.
- Categorically excluded from NEPA requirements (24 CFR 58.35(a))
Activities that are categorically excluded from NEPA review (environmental assessment or environmental impact statement) requirements receive this designation because they do not individually or collectively have a significant impact on the environment. However, compliance with other applicable federal environmental laws listed in § 58.5 is required for activities designated under this part. Examples of activities categorically excluded from NEPA is the acquisition, repair, improvement, reconstruction, or rehabilitation of public facilities and improvements when the facilities and improvements are in-place and will be retained in the same use without change in size or capacity of more than 20 percent.
- Categorically excluded, not subject to § 58.5 (24 CFR 58.35(b))
Activities in this section are categorically excluded from the requirements at § 58.5, due to HUD's determination that such activities will not alter any conditions that would require a NEPA review or a compliance determination under § 58.5. When performing a categorically excluded activity not subject to § 58.5, the RE does not need to publish a NOI/RROF (Notice of Intent/Request for Release of Funds). Following the award of program funds, no further approval from HUD (or the State) will be needed with respect to environmental requirements. An example of an activity categorically excluded from § 58.5, but not NEPA would be an activity to assist homebuyers with purchasing existing dwelling units or dwelling units under construction, including closing costs and downpayment assistance, and similar activities that result in the transfer of title. NOTE: The RE will still need to file a statement in the Environmental Review Record that the activity was determined to be Categorically Excluded, Not Subject to § 58.5.
- Categorically excluded, but may be converted to an exempt activity (24 CFR 58.34(a)(12))
Any of the categorically excluded activities in § 58.35(a) are exempt from NEPA, provided that there are no circumstances that require compliance with any other federal law and authorities cited in § 58.5. Using the statutory checklist, and after consulting with applicable agencies and organizations, the RE can designate an activity as exempt if it can show that none of the federal laws and authorities are triggered through funding this activity. The statutory checklist deals with non-NEPA regulations which HOME grantees must adhere, such as historic and wildlife preservation rules and water quality standards. A sample checklist can be found in the "Environmental Review Guide for Community Development Block Grants" HUD-CPD 782(1). (This guide, also known as "The Green Book", may be obtained by contacting Community Connections) The RE must file the completed checklist and a statement in the Environmental Review Record.
- Subject to a environmental assessment (24 CFR 58.36)
If a project is not exempt or categorically excluded under the above sections, the RE must prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA). An EA is a concise public document that includes all the evidence and analysis supporting the RE's decision as to whether an environmental impact statement is warranted, or if an activity will result in no significant impact to the environment. The contents of a standard environmental assessment are found at § 58.38.
- Subject to an environmental impact statement (24 CFR 58.37)
If a project is subject to a full EA and is determined to have a potentially significant impact on the human environment, then an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. An EIS is also required if the project fits at least one of the following criteria:
- it would provide a site or sites for, or result in the construction of, hospitals or nursing homes containing a total of 2,500 or more beds;
- it would remove, demolish, convert or substantially rehabilitate 2,500 or more existing housing units (not including rehab projects categorically excluded under § 58.35) or would result in the construction or installation of 2,500 or more housing units, or would provide sites for 2,500 more housing units; or
- it would provide enough additional water and sewer capacity to support 2,500 or more additional housing units. See Section 58.37 for further information about when an EIS is necessary and when it may be able to be avoided.