Appendix 28: Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Establishing, Applying, and Revising Categorical Exclusions Under the National Environmental Policy Act

AuthorNicholas C. Yost
Establishing, Applying, and Revising Categorical Exclusions Under NEPA Page 501
Federal Register/ Vol. 75, No. 233 / Monday, December 6, 2010 /Rules and Regulations
A discussion of NEPA applicability is beyond
the scope of this guidance. For more information
see CEQ, The Citizen’s Guide to the National
Environmental Policy Act, available at
For more information on this announcement,
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Draft
Guidance, Establishing, Applying, and Revising
Categorical Exclusions under the National
Environmental Policy Act, 75 FR 8045, Feb. 23,
40 CFR Parts 1500, 1501, 1502, 1503,
1504, 1505, 1506, 1507, and 1508
Final Guidance for Federal
Departments and Agencies on
Establishing, Applying, and Revising
Categorical Exclusions Under the
National Environmental Policy Act
: Council on Environmental
: Notice of availability.
: The Council on
Environmental Quality (CEQ) is issuing
its final guidance on categorical
exclusions. This guidance provides
methods for substantiating categorical
exclusions, clarifies the process for
establishing categorical exclusions,
outlines how agencies should engage
the public when establishing and using
categorical exclusions, describes how
agencies can document the use of
categorical exclusions, and recommends
periodic agency review of existing
categorical exclusions. A categorical
exclusion is a category of actions that a
Federal agency determines does not
normally result in individually or
cumulatively significant environmental
effects. This guidance clarifies the rules
for establishing, applying, and revising
categorical exclusions. It applies to
categorical exclusions established by
Federal agencies in accordance with
CEQ regulations for implementing the
procedural provisions of the National
Environmental Policy Act. The guidance
was developed to assist agencies in
making their implementation of the
National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA) more transparent and efficient.
: The guidance is effective
December 6, 2010.
: The
Council on Environmental Quality
(ATTN: Horst Greczmiel, Associate
Director for National Environmental
Policy Act Oversight), 722 Jackson
Place, NW., Washington, DC 20503.
Telephone: (202) 395–5750.
: This
guidance applies to categorical
exclusions established by Federal
agencies in accordance with §1507.3 of
the CEQ Regulations for Implementing
the Procedural Provisions of the
National Environmental Policy Act, 40
CFR parts 1500–1508.
Enacted in 1970, the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42
U.S.C. 4321–4370, is a fundamental tool
used to harmonize our environmental,
economic, and social aspirations and is
a cornerstone of our Nation’s efforts to
protect the environment. NEPA
recognizes that many Federal activities
affect the environment and mandates
that Federal agencies consider the
environmental impacts of their
proposed actions before deciding to
adopt proposals and take action.
Federal actions do not normally have
significant effects on the environment.
When agencies identify categories of
activities that do not normally have the
potential for individually or
cumulatively significant impacts, they
may establish a categorical exclusion for
those activities. The use of categorical
exclusions can reduce paperwork and
delay, so that more resources are
available to assess proposed actions that
are likely to have the potential to cause
significant environmental effects in an
environmental assessment (EA) or
environmental impact statement (EIS).
This guidance clarifies the rules for
establishing categorical exclusions by
describing: (1) How to establish or
revise a categorical exclusion; (2) how to
use public involvement and
documentation to help define and
substantiate a proposed categorical
exclusion; (3) how to apply an
established categorical exclusion; (4)
how to determine when to prepare
documentation and involve the public
when applying a categorical exclusion;
and (5) how to conduct periodic reviews
of categorical exclusions to assure their
continued appropriate use and
On February 18, 2010, the Council on
Environmental Quality announced three
proposed draft guidance documents to
modernize and reinvigorate NEPA, in
conjunction with the fortieth
anniversary of the statute’s enactment.
This guidance document is the first of
those three to be released in final form.
With respect to the other two guidance
documents, one addresses when and
how Federal agencies should consider
greenhouse gas emissions and climate
change in their proposed actions, and
the other addresses when agencies need
to monitor commitments made in EAs
and EISs, and how agencies can
appropriately use mitigated ‘‘Findings of
No Significant Impact.’’ The Federal
Register notice announcing the draft
categorical exclusion guidance and
requesting public comments was
published on February 23, 2010.
appreciates the thoughtful responses to
its request for comments on the draft
guidance. Commenters included private
citizens, corporations, environmental
organizations, trade associations, and
State agencies. CEQ received fifty-eight
comments, which are available online at
nepa/comments and at http:// The comments that
suggested editorial revisions and
requested clarification of terms are
addressed in the text of the final
guidance. Comments that raised policy
or substantive concerns are grouped into
thematic issues and addressed in the
following sections of this notice.
Process for Developing and Using
Categorical Exclusions
Many commenters expressed support
for CEQ’s categorical exclusion
guidance and for the timely and
efficient use of categorical exclusions in
the NEPA environmental review process
to inform agency decisionmaking. Some
commenters favored guidance that
would limit the use of categorical
exclusions. Others expressed concern
that this guidance will discourage the
appropriate use of categorical
exclusions or make the NEPA process
more difficult for agencies, and thereby
delay agency decisionmaking.
This guidance was developed to
provide for the consistent, proper, and
appropriate development and use of
categorical exclusions by Federal
agencies. It reinforces the process
required to establish categorical
exclusions by explaining methods
available to substantiate categorical
exclusions. It also seeks to ensure
opportunities for public involvement
and increasing transparency when
Federal agencies establish categorical
exclusions and subsequently use those
categorical exclusions to satisfy their
NEPA obligations for specific proposed
actions. Additionally, this guidance
affords Federal agencies flexibility in
developing and implementing
categorical exclusions while ensuring
that categorical exclusions are
administered in compliance with NEPA
and the CEQ Regulations. When
appropriately established and applied,
categorical exclusions expedite the
environmental review process for
proposals that normally do not require
additional analysis and documentation
in an EA or an EIS.

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