The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued two final guidance documents today, one which requires monitoring of any mitigation included in an environmental document, and the other governing the use of categorical exclusions.
It will take a few weeks to fully digest what the guidance will mean for Forest Service planning and implementation of projects. Both guidance papers are an outcome of CEQs outreach in 2004 to “modernize” NEPA implementation, and last year’s “40th anniversary of NEPA” review. CEQ is saying that these guidance documents are not rules or regulations, and are not legally binding requirements or legally enforceable. Nevertheless, the guidance expresses the intent of the Administration, and will likely be used in reviews of agency procedures and NEPA documents.
The mitigation and monitoring guidance paper reemphasizes the importance of mitigation under NEPA to minimize the potential adverse environmental impacts by avoiding, minimizing, rectifying, reducing, or compensating for an impact. Mitigation (like requiring best practices or staying out of a particular area) is often incorporated into the proposed project design or one of the alternatives. Sometimes, mitigation might be used to reduce the impact such that a “finding of no significant impact” is made. CEQ wants Federal agencies to ensure that mitigation commitments are actually implemented, and that monitoring is accomplished to provide feedback on those determinations.
The guidance for categorical exclusions (from NEPA documentation like an EIS or EA) places additional requirements on agencies when they establish categories or use categories already in existence. CEQ is encouraging agencies to provide guidance on the level of documentation required when CEs are used.