The relationship between NEPA and CSD/CSS is confusing but both aim at selecting the best alternative, both are intended to provide timely information for effective decision making,a nd both provide the interdisciplinary framework for considering the positive and negative impacts of the proposed action.
Establish Environmental Review Process
Perhaps the key management issue is determining if the project will be conducted
under NEPA. There may be confusion about the relationship of NEPA and CSD/CSS,
but steps in the two processes are nearly identical, and the two can fit together
very easily. The processes are overlayed and integrated, not run consecutively.
Both aim at selecting the best alternative, both are intended to provide timely
information for effective decision making, and both provide the interdisciplinary
framework for considering the positive and negative impacts of the proposed
Because NEPA is a national law that applies to all federal agency actions, it
is almost always implemented through a series of regulations promulgated by
each federal agency and in many cases each state DOT. Despite this national
law, and the common aim to provide the agency with a defensible decision process,
each of these agency regulations is different from the others in its particulars.
In all NEPA projects, though, it is necessary to identify the lead and cooperating
agencies as well as the type of review required. It may not be possible to determine
if an EIS, EA, or CE is appropriate during the first step of the process, although
in many cases the lead agencies are able to make the decision even at this early
point. The earlier the determination can be made, the better, because it affects
the design of the public and agency outreach programs as well as a variety of
data gathering efforts.
If the project does not require either federal funding, a federal agency permit,
or other approval action, and is therefore not subject to NEPA regulations,
the environmental review process will likely be guided by local, regional, or
state environmental regulations as well as response to stakeholder issues and
concerns. Some agencies choose to follow NEPA even if it is not required to
ensure that if conditions change, and a federal action is later triggered by
the project, there is no need for "back tracking" to accommodate federal
In addition to understanding the relationship of the project to NEPA, it is
also important to determine the applicability of other regulations that can
affect the development, evaluation, and selection of alternatives, and the ultimate
implementability of the project. Such regulations might include local, regional,
or state laws that control land use; restrain urban growth; protect against
adverse impacts to specific lands, species, or other resources; require a public
vote to approve certain types of projects; or require a public vote to approve
funding for particular projects.
Knowledge of the regulatory framework in which the project will be developed
at the outset of project development helps to avoid surprises that cause delays
and rework at later stages of the process. The NEPA process is clearly intended
to operate as an umbrella approach so that all related environmental laws, regulations,
and policies are considered in a coordinated fashion during decision making.