23 CFR § 771.123 - Draft environmental impact statements.
(a) A draft EIS must be prepared when the Administration determines that the action is likely to cause significant impacts on the environment. When the applicant, after consultation with any project sponsor that is not the applicant, has notified the Administration in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 139(e), and the decision has been made by the Administration to prepare an EIS, the Administration will issue a notice of intent (40 CFR 1508.22) for publication in the Federal Register.Applicants are encouraged to announce the intent to prepare an EIS by appropriate means at the State or local level.
(1) After publication of the notice of intent, the lead agencies, in cooperation with the applicant (if not a lead agency), will begin a scoping process that may take into account any planning work already accomplished, in accordance with 23 CFR 450.212, 450.318, 23 CFR part 450 Appendix A, or any applicable provisions of the CEQ regulations at 40 CFR parts 1500-1508.. The scoping process will be used to identify the purpose and need, the range of alternatives and impacts, and the significant issues to be addressed in the EIS and to achieve the other objectives of 40 CFR 1501.7. Scoping is normally achieved through public and agency involvement procedures required by § 771.111. If a scoping meeting is to be held, it should be announced in the Administration's notice of intent and by appropriate means at the State or local level.
(2) The lead agencies must establish a coordination plan, including a schedule, within 90 days of notice of intent publication.
(c) The draft EIS must be prepared by the lead agencies, in cooperation with the applicant (if not a lead agency). The draft EIS must evaluate all reasonable alternatives to the action and document the reasons why other alternatives, which may have been considered, were eliminated from detailed study. The range of alternatives considered for further study must be used for all Federal environmental reviews and permit processes, to the maximum extent practicable and consistent with Federal law, unless the lead and participating agencies agree to modify the alternatives in order to address significant new information and circumstances or to fulfill NEPA responsibilities in a timely manner, in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 139(f)(4)(B). The draft EIS must also summarize the studies, reviews, consultations, and coordination required by environmental laws or executive orders to the extent appropriate at this stage in the environmental process.
(d) Any of the lead agencies may select a consultant to assist in the preparation of an EIS in accordance with applicable contracting procedures and with 40 CFR 1506.5(c). When FTA or the applicant, as joint lead agency, select a contractor to prepare the EIS, then the contractor must execute an FTA conflict of interest disclosure statement. The statement must be maintained in the FTA Regional Office and with the applicant. The contractor's scope of work for the preparation of the EIS will not be finalized until the early coordination activities or scoping process found in paragraph (b) of this section is completed (including FTA approval, in consultation with the applicant, of the scope of the EIS content). When FRA or the applicant, as joint lead agency, select a contractor to prepare the EIS, then the contractor must execute an FRA conflict of interest disclosure statement.
(e) The draft EIS should identify the preferred alternative to the extent practicable. If the draft EIS does not identify the preferred alternative, the Administration should provide agencies and the public with an opportunity after issuance of the draft EIS to review the impacts of the preferred alternative.
(f) At the discretion of the lead agency, the preferred alternative (or portion thereof) for a project, after being identified, may be developed to a higher level of detail than other alternatives in order to facilitate the development of mitigation measures or compliance with other legal requirements, including permitting. The development of such higher level of detail must not prevent the lead agency from making an impartial decision as to whether to accept another alternative that is being considered in the environmental review process. 3
3 FHWA Order 6640.1A clarifies the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) policy regarding the permissible project related activities that may be advanced prior to the conclusion of the NEPA process.
(g) The Administration, when satisfied that the draft EIS complies with NEPA requirements, will approve the draft EIS for circulation by signing and dating the cover sheet. The cover sheet should include a notice that after circulation of the draft EIS and consideration of the comments received, the Administration will issue a combined final EIS/ROD document unless statutory criteria or practicability considerations preclude issuance of the combined document.
(h) A lead, joint lead, or a cooperating agency must be responsible for publication and distribution of the EIS. Normally, copies will be furnished free of charge. However, with Administration concurrence, the party requesting the draft EIS may be charged a fee that is not more than the actual cost of reproducing the copy or may be directed to the nearest location where the statement may be reviewed. To minimize hardcopy requests and printing costs, the Administration encourages the use of project websites or other publicly accessible electronic means to make the draft EIS available.
(i) The applicant, on behalf of the Administration, must circulate the draft EIS for comment. The draft EIS must be made available to the public and transmitted to agencies for comment no later than the time the document is filed with the Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with 40 CFR 1506.9. The draft EIS must be transmitted to:
(1) Public officials, interest groups, and members of the public known to have an interest in the proposed action or the draft EIS;
(2) Cooperating and participating agencies. The draft EIS must also be transmitted directly to appropriate State and local agencies, and to the State intergovernmental review contacts established under Executive Order 12372; and
(3) States and Federal land management entities that may be significantly affected by the proposed action or any of the alternatives. These transmittals must be accompanied by a request that such State or entity advise the Administration in writing of any disagreement with the evaluation of impacts in the statement. The Administration will furnish the comments received to the applicant along with a written assessment of any disagreements for incorporation into the final EIS.
(j) When a public hearing on the draft EIS is held (if required by § 771.111), the draft EIS must be available at the public hearing and for a minimum of 15 days in advance of the public hearing. The availability of the draft EIS must be mentioned, and public comments requested, in any public hearing notice and at any public hearing presentation. If a public hearing on an action proposed for FHWA funding is not held, a notice must be placed in a newspaper similar to a public hearing notice advising where the draft EIS is available for review, how copies may be obtained, and where the comments should be sent.
(k) The Federal Register public availability notice (40 CFR 1506.10) must establish a period of not fewer than 45 days nor more than 60 days for the return of comments on the draft EIS unless a different period is established in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 139(g)(2)(A). The notice and the draft EIS transmittal letter must identify where comments are to be sent.