On August 25, 2014, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published draft guidance on when and how federal agencies may effectively use programmatic National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. See 79 Fed. Reg. 50,578 (August 25, 2014). This draft builds on guidance issued in 1983 and is designed to clarify the appropriate use of programmatic environmental impact statements (PEIS) and programmatic environmental assessments (PEA).

The draft guidance illustrates that programmatic NEPA documents may be properly used for a variety of broad-level actions including, but not limited, to creating or revising national or regional rulemakings, policies, or programs; adopting management plans for a range of resources; and making determinations related to common elements of closely related projects. It further highlights that such reviews may be especially appropriate when they contribute to the basic planning of an agency program or enable an agency to avoid segmenting a program from subsequent individual actions.

Issues addressed in the draft guidance include:

  • Determining the type of actions appropriate for programmatic NEPA review;
  • Including the appropriate level of detail in programmatic NEPA documents;
  • Adequately defining the purpose and need statement and determining its relationship to subsequent tiered proposals;
  • Setting the proper scope of and considering appropriate alternatives within a PEA or PEIS;
  • Including appropriate depth and detail in the impact analysis of a programmatic NEPA document;
  • Working with multiple agencies and other overlapping authorities that play a role in determining whether and how a proposed action may proceed;
  • Coordinating compliance with environmental reviews required by other laws and regulations;
  • Incorporating mitigation planning and monitoring strategies into the PEIS or PEA;
  • Handling newly-proposed and ongoing proposed actions while conducting a programmatic NEPA review; and
  • Maintaining the relevancy of programmatic NEPA documents for subsequent proposal-specific NEPA reviews and tiered analyses.

Comments on the proposed rules must be received by CEQ on or before October 9, 2014.