USGS PARTICIPATION IN THE NEPA PROCESS
OF ANOTHER FEDERAL AGENCY
(Revised February 2, 2009)
In accordance with Section 1503.2 of the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations, Federal agencies with jurisdiction by law or special expertise must provide timely comments on environmental impact statements (EISs), environmental assessments (EAs), and other related environmental documents prepared by other Federal agencies (OFAs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Department of Interior (DOI) Manual (DM), Part 516, Chapter 7.2, reinforces this requirement by stating that the Department considers it a priority responsibility to provide competent and timely review comments.
This supplement guidance outlines the role and responsibilities of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees’ participation in the NEPA process of an OFA and how official comments from the USGS on EISs, EAs, and other related environmental documents (collectively referred as NEPA documents) are to be communicated to the proponent Federal agency.
Bureau Coordination of NEPA Document Reviews
The USGS manages its NEPA compliance responsibilities as specified in Chapter 9 of 516 DM. These procedures specify that the USGS Senior Advisor for Science Applications (Jim Devine) is responsible for providing policy guidance, direction, and oversight for environmental activities; is responsible for approving USGS reviews of NEPA documents; and has official signatory authority for all USGS comments on NEPA documents prepared by an OFA. Supporting the Senior Advisor is the Environmental Affairs Program (EAP). The EAP, which is administratively attached to Water Resources, is the focal point for all NEPA activities within the Bureau. Staff within the Biological Resources, Geology, and Water Resources Disciplines at Headquarters support the EAP by conducting interdisciplinary reviews of NEPA documents developed by an OFA. Associate Directors, Regional Directors, Science Center Directors, and office chiefs are responsible within their respective organizations for ensuring compliance with NEPA, as well as implementing Survey policies and procedures concerning NEPA and applicable consultation requirements.
Role and Responsibilities of USGS Staff in the Review of NEPA Documents
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has instructed Federal agencies to submit their NEPA documents to the DOI Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance (OEPC), which will coordinate document reviews with all DOI bureaus. Staff are encouraged to participate with the EAP in the Survey’s interdisciplinary review of NEPA documents. This participation normally is limited to providing the EAP with data and information relevant to assessing the potential impacts of the proposed Federal action. On occasion, the EAP (discipline office) may request a review of a NEPA document by a scientist, office, or program when they have unique or extensive knowledge or expertise that is very relevant to the proposed action. Supervisors are asked to consider these reviews a regular part of their employee’s responsibilities to the public and an OFA. Funding to support the review will not be available from the EAP except in special circumstances.
However, Federal agencies often will directly contact field managers and scientists for data, information, consultation, services, and reviews related to their NEPA activities, especially when there is an existing partnering relationship or when the OFA has determined that the special expertise of a Survey scientist is needed. Such collaboration is encouraged and often can lead to new program opportunities. In all circumstances, however, NEPA review policy, procedures, and signatory requirements prescribed in 516 DM 9 must be followed including notifying the EAP of the receipt of an EIS or EA, and the office’s plans to participate in the NEPA process of the OFA. This required notification will ensure that all appropriate procedures are followed and that staff are afforded an opportunity to contribute to the official Departmental (or USGS) comments. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Center Director or office chief to ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are followed as outlined below.
The overarching policy when participating in the NEPA process of an OFA is as with all work conducted by the USGS:
The reputation of USGS science for excellence and objectivity is the Survey’s most important asset. Consequently, representatives of the USGS shall not at any time recommend or appear to advocate or prescribe a particular public policy or course of action, verbally or in writing.
Another Federal agency may contact a Survey manager or scientist at various stages of their NEPA process.
Federal agency requests informal consultation with the USGS prior to or early during their NEPA process and/or provides a Notice of Intent to prepare a NEPA document and scoping meeting announcement
Federal agencies must publish a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS or EA in the Federal Register. The notice also may provide information on public scoping meetings. This public notice constitutes the official initiation of the environmental review process for the proposed action. The objective at this early phase of the environmental review process is to solicit information from the public and other agencies concerning potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed action and to request relevant data and information.
The USGS will provide relevant data and publications at no cost to an OFA. A Survey representative may be asked to provide scientific opinions concerning potential environmental implications of the proposed Federal action or recommend the type of monitoring or investigations that may be needed. Such informal consultation with the proponent Federal agency is allowable as the USGS has an obligation to assist OFAs in areas where the Survey has special expertise. However, all informal consultation and communications must be consistent with the overarching policy of maintaining objectivity.
Notification requirements: No need to report such requests to the EAP.
Federal agency requests that the USGS provide on-going technical consultation and assistance, collect scientific data, and/or conduct a scientific investigation prior to or during the NEPA process for a proposed action
The USGS will provide relevant existing data and publications at no cost to OFAs. OFAs. The Center Director or office chief should determine if the scope of technical assistance or other work requested must be provided on a reimbursable basis under an Interagency Agreement (IAG). Commonly, the USGS will be asked to make presentations at public meetings convened by the proponent Federal agency concerning the work that is being performed. However, all technical assistance, services, and communications must be consistent with the overarching policy of maintaining objectivity as well as conform to requirements and procedures outlined in Fundamental Science Practices. Also, written comments on technical documents other than an EIS or EA should state that the review does not represent the Department’s review.
Notification requirements: The Center Director or office chief must submit written notification to the Chief of the EAP and the appropriate Regional Executive of their intent to provide science support to an OFA during their NEPA process. This advanced notification will ensure that the office is provided an opportunity to participate in the Survey’s interdisciplinary review of the EIS or EA for the proposed action and contribute to the official Departmental (or USGS) comments.
Federal agency formally requests in writing that the USGS serve as a Cooperating Agency during the NEPA process for a proposed Federal action
The only difference from our participation outlined above is that the consultation and technical assistance takes on an official regulatory designation. It is the policy of the USGS to decline requests to be an official cooperating agency in the NEPA activities of an OFA except where the proposed Federal action may directly affect our facilities or the conduct of our work. However, the USGS as part of our mission will continue to provide science support to the OFA when our data and scientific expertise have relevance to their proposed action undergoing NEPA review. Such assistance could include attending or making presentations at scoping and technical meetings, and conducting special studies and data collection projects.
Notification requirements: The Center Director or office chief must refer all cooperating agency requests to the EAP. Official responses to the OFA’s request can only be sent under the signature of the USGS Senior Advisor for Science Applications. If the decision is to decline the request, OEPC must be notified.
Federal agency sends an EIS or EA directly to a Center Director, office chief, or scientist for review
516 DM 7 requires that the USGS (EAP) inform the requesting Federal agency of the Department’s NEPA review procedures and promptly refer the request and the EIS or EA to the OEPC. NEPA documents prepared by another DOI bureau must be sent to the EAP for review.
Field managers and staff are encouraged to participate in the Survey’s review of NEPA documents. However, it is important to remember that only the Senior Advisor for Science Applications has official signatory and release authority for USGS comments on NEPA documents. Field reviews of NEPA documents shall be coordinated with the appropriate discipline office at Headquarters, which will consolidate all the comments from their respective discipline and conduct a peer review consistent with Fundamental Science Practices. The Chief of the EAP will consolidate comments received from each of the discipline offices, conduct a policy review, and prepare official transmittal correspondence for the Senior Advisor’s consideration.
USGS comments on an EIS or EA are considered an administrative report and will become part of the public NEPA record under the control of the proponent Federal agency. Chapter 7.6 of DM Part 516 states that “prior to the public availability of another Federal agency’s final EIS, the Department (and bureaus) shall not independently release to the public its comments on that agency’s draft EIS.”
Notification requirements: The Center Director or office chief shall forward the review request to the EAP with a copy to the appropriate Regional Executive. Interest in participating in the Survey’s review of the NEPA document should be indicated. The EAP will initiate the Survey’s interdisciplinary review of DOI NEPA documents. If the NEPA was prepared by a non-DOI agency, the EAP will advise the proponent agency of the Department’s NEPA review procedures and promptly refer the request and the EIS or EA to the OEPC.
 OPEC does not coordinate the review of DOI produced NEPA documents. Rather, the proponent bureau shall solicit comments directly from the other bureaus. The same USGS internal coordination and sign-off procedures are followed for the review of DOI produced NEPA documents.
 OPEC does not coordinate the review of DOI produced NEPA documents. However, the Department encourages the proponent bureau to solicit comments from the other bureaus. It is not uncommon for a proponent bureau to send a review request directly to an USGS field office or scientist without copying USGS Headquarters (or EAP) on the correspondence. In all cases, established USGS internal review and sign-off procedures for OFA NEPA documents must be followed.