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Streamlining Environmental Reviews of Highway and Transit Projects: Analysis of Legislative Proposals During the 108th Congress

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Publication Date: December 2004

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32032

Topic: Transportation (Highways)

Abstract:

Before final design activities, property acquisition, or construction for a federally funded surface transportation project can proceed, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is required by law to comply with environmental review provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.). In addition, any surface transportation project will potentially require compliance with a variety of federal, state, and local environmental laws, rules, and regulations, in turn requiring the cooperation of federal, state, and local agencies.

Some Members of Congress have expressed concerns that the interagency coordination required to complete the environmental review process for large, complex transportation projects can lead to project delays. To address this concern, "Environmental Streamlining" provisions were included in legislation that reauthorized federal surface transportation programs for FY1998-2003 in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21; P.L. 105-178).

During the 108th Congress, debate on the streamlining issue continued. Both House- and Senate- passed legislation to reauthorize surface transportation programs for FY2004-FY2009 (H.R. 3550 and S. 1072) included streamlining provisions. Conferees failed to reach an agreement on reauthorization before Congress adjourned. The 109th Congress is expected to revisit the streamlining issue when the reauthorization legislation is reintroduced in early 2005.

Streamlining provisions from bills passed during the 108th Congress included the designation of DOT as the "lead agency" in the environmental review process; the designation of authority to the lead agency to define a project's purpose and need, and to determine the range of alternatives to be considered; the creation of a dispute resolution process to address issues of concern between agencies; amendments to current statutory requirements to potentially allow for the use of certain public lands or historic sites for transportation projects; delegation of certain authority to state agencies; and the establishment of a statute of limitations on final agency actions or comment deadlines applicable to agencies and the public.

This report provides background and detail on streamlining provisions proposed during the 108th Congress that may be expected to be revisited in legislation proposed during the 109th Congress. This report will not be updated. For more information on issues regarding the environmental review process, see CRS Report RL32024, Background on NEPA Implementation for Highway Projects: Streamlining the Process.