National Environmental Policy Act Review
The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, directs federal agencies to prepare a detailed statement of the environmental impacts of any “major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” These statements are usually known as Environmental Assessments (EA) or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). The “human environment” consists of many aspects, including what NEPA terms “cultural resources.”
Under NEPA, cultural resources include historic properties as defined under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and its implementing regulations at 36 CFR 800. Cultural resources also include the cultural use of the physical and natural environment, social institutions, lifeways, religious practices, and other cultural institutions. The SHPO has provided some guidance in identifying cultural resources that could be considered Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs) (PDF). If an agency is considering cultural resources as defined under NEPA, the SHPO expects that the agency consider all cultural resources, not just buildings, structures, historic districts, objects, or archaeological sites.
NOTE: Some federal actions may be categorically excluded from the NEPA process. Categorical exclusions of projects from NEPA requirements do not mean that these projects are exempt from Section 106 review.
Consultation with the SHPO under NEPA does not substitute for consultation with the SHPO under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act unless the provisions under 36 CFR 800.8(c) are followed by the federal agency. To substitute the NEPA process for Section 106, agencies must, at a minimum:
- Notify the SHPO, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that it intends to substitute the NEPA process for Section 106 consultation (via letter or e-mail).
- Identify consulting parties, identify cultural resources and historic properties, and assess effects on these resources and properties in a manner consistent with 36 CFR 800.
- Utilize this identification and assessment information when developing project alternatives within the NEPA process.
The SHPO encourages federal agencies to substitute the NEPA process for Section 106 consultation. If a federal agency submits a NEPA document to the SHPO without notification that it intends to substitute the NEPA process for Section 106, the SHPO will not review or comment on the document until the agency opens consultation as defined in 36 CFR 800.
Agencies interested in scoping for cultural resources and/or historic properties should check our Historic Properties Research webpage.
This handbook was developed by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to assist federal planners, Section 106 and NEPA practitioners and other responsible parties in improving the integration of the NEPA analysis and documentation and Section 106 compliance to establish efficiencies and improve the effectiveness of environmental reviews. The handbook provides practical advice and tips on how to align the independent statutory obligations of NEPA and Section 106 review.