National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

NEPA is a U.S. environmental statute signed into law in 1970 requiring all federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of their proposed action(s) prior to making decisions. Specifically, it requires all federal agencies to prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment. These statements are commonly referred to as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA).

Once all environmental analysis requirements are satisfied, an agency will prepare a NEPA finding or decision document. 

NEPA and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST)

FAA Order 1050.1F, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, provides the FAA's agency-wide policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the requirements set forth in CEQ’s Regulations for implementing NEPA (40 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 1500 to 1508). Additional explanatory guidance for environmental impact analysis can be found in the FAA Order 1050.1F Desk Reference.

See the Environmental Assessment Milestones and Environmental Impact Statement Milestones below for additional information on the NEPA process for Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs).

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AST Environmental Documents Completed in Accordance with NEPA

Issuance of a license or permit, including renewals and modifications, by AST is considered a major Federal action under NEPA. Thus, AST analyzes the environmental impacts of the proposed authorization of operating commercial space launch and reentry sites (spaceports) and commercial space vehicle launches and reentries. A NEPA finding is required prior to license or permit authorization. Additionally, completion of a NEPA finding does not guarantee a license or permit authorization. 
Click this link to view NEPA documents along with documents in progress.

For applicant license, permit, and safety element approval steps and requirements, refer to https://www.faa.gov/space/licenses/licensing_process/

Information on the types of environmental documents prepared to support license or permit authorizations can be found below.

Environmental Assessments (EAs)

An EA is a concise document used to describe the anticipated environmental impacts of a proposed action and determine whether the action has the potential to significantly affect the human environment.

An EA defines the purpose and need for the project, analyzes the potential impacts of the project and alternatives; demonstrates compliance with other Executive Orders and environmental laws; and allows for public participation, when applicable. An EA may also contain mitigation measures that avoid, eliminate, or reduce anticipated impacts. The major milestones in the EA process are shown in Environmental Assessment Milestones.

If an EA demonstrates impacts of a proposed action would not be significant or could be mitigated to below the level of significance, AST will prepare and issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or a FONSI/Record of Decision (ROD). A FONSI presents AST’s findings and provides the rationale for why the project would not have a significant impact on the environment. Alternatively, if an EA demonstrates that the proposed action could result in significant impacts, AST would publish a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS to continue the environmental review. 

AST may provide a public review and comment period for Draft EAs. All Final EAs and FONSIs are made available via the above link.

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Environmental Assessment (EA) Statement Milestones:

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Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)

If AST anticipates that significant impacts would result from a proposed action, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared. An EIS is a clear, concise, and detailed document that discusses the environmental impacts of the proposed action and reasonable alternatives.

Like an EA, an EIS defines the purpose and need for a project, considers a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts of the proposal and its alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other applicable laws and requirements. An EIS also contains measures that avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate environmental impacts when possible.

An EIS is typically more detailed than an EA and the EIS process requires additional opportunities for public involvement. The major steps in the EIS process are provided in Exhibit 2. 

Preparation of an EIS results in a ROD, which is a document that records AST’s decision on the proposed action and presents AST’s rationale for making that decision. A ROD does not represent an AST decision to authorize a license or permit. Instead, it documents the basis for AST’s determination and presents AST’s rationale for making that decision.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Milestones:

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Other Laws & Requirements

In addition to NEPA, AST must comply with other applicable laws and requirements. Information on these can be found in the FAA Order 1050.1F Desk Reference under each environmental impact category. 

Last updated: Thursday, November 30, 2023