The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of proposed projects as part of their decision-making. For NEC FUTURE, the FRA chose a “tiered” approach to satisfy NEPA requirements:
In the Tier 1 EIS, alternatives are defined at a conceptual level and represent a range of possible rail improvements. Alternatives include information about the locations to be served and the types of rail service to be provided, without specifying a precise alignment. Similarly, the analysis of environmental effects of each alternative is conducted at a high level, based on readily available data.
The environmental review for NEC FUTURE began with a scoping process that enabled agencies, stakeholders and the public to learn about and contribute to shaping the program. During a four-month period in 2012, the FRA invited the public to comment on the purpose and need for the rail investment program, the Study Area, the range of alternatives to be considered, and the types of environmental consequences to be evaluated in the Tier 1 EIS. In August 2012, the FRA held agency and public scoping meetings in each of the NEC’s eight states and the District of Columbia. The FRA received nearly 2,500 different comments from approximately 800 individuals and organizations. All comments were reviewed and considered in the development of alternatives. Information on the scoping process and a summary of comments received can be found in the Scoping Summary on this website.
The next step of the NEPA process was the development of alternatives for evaluation in the Tier 1 Draft EIS. The development of alternatives followed a sequential process as described on the Alternatives page of this website.
Decisions about future investment in the NEC could have a variety of consequences for the natural and human environment. The construction of new rail infrastructure, the rail services to be provided, and the operation of those services could all affect the environment in different ways.
The Tier 1 Draft EIS analyzes existing environmental conditions in the Study Area and the environmental effects of each alternative. This assessment will help the FRA determine which alternative(s) meets the Purpose and Need with the best consequences for the Northeast region. It may also help identify ways of modifying the alternatives to avoid or reduce negative environmental impacts and promote positive impacts.
The Tier 1 Draft EIS presents the analysis of existing environmental conditions in the Study Area and the environmental effects of each Action Alternative on over twenty resource categories, and the Tier 1 Final EIS presents the environmental effects of the Preferred Alternative on these resources.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires the FRA to consider the potential effect of the NEC FUTURE alternatives on historic properties, including Native American tribal cultural resources. The FRA conducted the Section 106 review in consultation with each State Historic Preservation Office along the NEC, as well as with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The FRA also coordinated directly with federally-recognized Indian tribal governments within the Study Area. Through this process, a Programmatic Agreement has been developed that provides a framework for compliance with Section 106 in future Tier 2 actions that could affect historic properties along the NEC.
The environmental review process includes ongoing public involvement and agency coordination. The FRA holds periodic public meetings, workshops, and webinars, and provides opportunities for online engagement. In addition, the FRA meets regularly with federal, state, and regional agencies, including environmental and transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations.
The FRA has collaborated with federal and state environmental agencies since the inception of NEC FUTURE. Informal roundtables with resource and regulatory agencies began in 2012 through a partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). In January 2012, CEQ and the FRA announced the selection of the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as a pilot project to promote early collaboration with federal and state environmental agencies for efficient environmental decision-making. The pilot was designed to help avoid the conflicts and delays often found in complex, multi-state transportation projects by engaging environmental resource and regulatory agencies early in the environmental review and assessment process. NEC FUTURE was one of five pilot projects in the CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot Program, as described on the CEQ website. The FRA continues to meet with these agencies on a regular basis.
One achievement of the CEQ Pilot was the development of a Statement of Principles that spells out an approach and protocols for future collaboration with federal agencies. The following federal agencies have concurred with the Statement of Principles: