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Council on Environmental Quality

Overview

The following provides an overview of the White House Council on Environmental Quality as it relates to transportation programs. Topics include the following:

Background

The Council on Environmental Quality coordinates federal environmental efforts and works closely with agencies and other White House offices in the development of environmental policies and initiatives. The council's chair serves as the principal environmental policy adviser to the President. In addition, CEQ reports annually to the President on the state of the environment; oversees federal agency implementation of the environmental impact assessment process; and acts as a referee when agencies disagree over the adequacy of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs).

The chairman of CEQ serves as the senior environmental advisor to the President, as well as Director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy, which oversees the development of environmental policy, coordinates interagency implementation of environmental programs, and mediates key policy disagreements among federal agencies, state, tribal and local governments and private citizens.

Congress established CEQ within the Executive Office of the President as part of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Additional responsibilities were provided by the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970.

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NEPA

In enacting NEPA, Congress recognized that nearly all federal activities affect the environment in some way and mandated that before federal agencies make decisions, they must consider the effects of their actions on the quality of the human environment. NEPA gives CEQ the job of ensuring that federal agencies meet their obligations under the act.

NEPA's goal was to require federal agencies to review and assess the environmental impacts of their actions, and to direct such agencies to consider alternatives that would mitigate or restore these environmental impacts.

NEPA established a mandate for Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposals, document the analysis, and make this information available to the public for comment prior to implementation.

While NEPA established the basic framework for integrating environmental considerations into Federal decisionmaking, it did not provide the details of the process for which it would be accomplished. Federal implementation of NEPA was the charge of the CEQ, which interpreted the law and addressed NEPA's action forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance.

In 1978, CEQ issued Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR §§ 1500 -1508). In 1980, CEQ issued the guidance document, Forty Questions and Answers on the CEQ Regulations. Since that time, CEQ has issued additional guidance and other information covering a variety of issues relevant to the NEPA process. This information is available at CEQ NEPAnet.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a unique responsibility in the NEPA review process. Under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act [PDF 12kb], EPA is required to review and publicly comment on the environmental impacts of major federal actions including actions that are the subject of EISs.  If EPA determines that the action is environmentally unsatisfactory, it is required by Section 309 to refer the matter to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

For transportation projects, NEPA requires the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other transportation agencies to examine and avoid potential impacts to the social and natural environment when considering approval of proposed transportation projects. In addition to evaluating the potential environmental effects, FHWA must take into account the transportation needs of the public in reaching a decision that is in the best overall public interest.

To address the NEPA responsibilities established by CEQ, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued regulations 23 CFR 771 - Subchapter H, Environmental Impact and Related Procedures. The FHWA guidance complementing the regulations were issued in the form of a Technical Advisory (T.6640.8a), Guidance for Preparing and Processing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents. The Technical Advisory provides detailed information on the contents and processing of environmental documents. Additional guidance and information on the NEPA process and other environmental requirements are found in the FHWA Environmental Toolkit.

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AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials)
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