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NEPA Categorical Exclusions Process


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Projects that are not likely to cause significant adverse environmental impacts are classified as NEPA Categorical Exclusions (CE).  CEs typically do not involve impacts to growth or land use; relocation of significant numbers of people; or significant air, noise, or water quality impacts.  They do not impact cultural, recreational, historic, or other resources, and are not controversial for environmental reasons. 

The information on this page is designed for a technical audience.  

New FHWA Guidance

  • 2015 CE Programmatic Agreement (pdf 89 kb)  with FHWA allows WSDOT to approve all CE NEPA documentation for FHWA funded projects.
  • Consider these definitions (pdf 130 kb) in relationship to the constraints listed in 23 CFR 771.117(e).
  • Use the CE Verification Checklist (docx 23 kb) to determine if your project meets the constraints in 23 CFR 771.117(e) when using (c)(26), (c)(27), or (c)(28) and attach a copy of the checklist to the ECS form. 
  • FHWA has updated their guidance for obtaining FHWA approval for de minimis use and Temporary Occupancy for CE level projects.  A process flow chart and forms are available on the Section 4(f) web page. (August 2014) 

What types of projects are considered to be CEs? 

FHWA CEs are listed in  23 CFR 771.117.

  • NEW CEs became effective November 5, 2014.  Click on the link to 23 CFR 771.117 to review new 'c' and 'd' list CEs for FHWA.
  • The constraints in 23 CFR 771.117(e) apply to project types covered under (c)(26), (c)(27) and (c)(28). If the project does not meet the constraints it will have to be processed as a (d)(13).
  • Follow the steps this flow chart (pdf 122 kb) to determine the appropriate CE for your project.

FTA CEs are listed in 23 CFR 771.118.

  • NEW CEs became effective November 5, 2014.  Click on the link to 23 CFR 771.118 to view the new 'c' and 'd' list CEs for FTA.
  • NEPA documentation for project types on the 'c' list can be signed by WSDOT. Project types on the 'd' list require review and approval by FTA.

Environmental Review Summary (ERS):

Project Scoping:  The NEPA Classification is determined during the project scoping phase. The project is scoped in the ERS tab of the Project Summary database. The ERS establishes the environmental baseline for the project and is used to build the project schedule and budget prior to project funding.

Guidance on how to fill out an ERS is found embedded within the database. For access to the database contact your Region Environmental Coordinator (REC).

Environmental Classification Summary (ECS):

Analyzing and Documenting Impacts -- After a project receives design funding, the project record is exported from Project Summary (ERS) into the Environmental Classification Summary/SEPA Checklist database (ECS).

  1. As design issues are resolved, pertinent information is entered into the appropriate blanks in the Environmental Consideration section of the ECS database. 
  2. Environmental documentation for CE level projects is accomplished in the ERS/ECS database. The signed ECS Report and supporting documentation, if any, serves as the environmental document for CE level projects.
  3. According to the 2014 Programmatic Agreement with FHWA, these CEs are typically signed by the Region Environmental Manager.  According to the agreement, FHWA audits our CEs annually.  We have invited the Office of Equal Opportunity to be part of this audit to be an impartial validator regarding the project's impact on disadvantaged populations.
  4. The Help index provides guidance for how to answer the questions in the database. Contact your REC for access to the ECS/SEPA Checklist database.
  5. Small projects that take place entirely within the existing ROW may use the new short 'c' List Form  (pdf 117 kb)
  6. Consult with the Coast Guard if a Section 9 bridge permit is required to coordinate NEPA requirements.

Re-Evaluating CEs

CEs may require re-evaluation (see EM Section 400.06) if:

  1. The project scope has changed.
  2. More than three years has elapsed since the last FHWA action.
  3. New environmental laws or regulations have been enacted.
  4. New ESA species have been listed.
  5. The project area has changed.

Methods for documenting Re-Evaluations



Guidance can be found on the SEPA Process web page and in the SEPA Online Handbook.