The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the Office of Commercial Space (AST) to integrate environmental values into its decision-making process. AST considers the environmental impacts of proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions in order to make decisions based on an understanding of environmental consequences. AST takes actions that protect, restore, and enhance the environment. These actions are described in the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Environmental Policy (PDF)

Under the Environmental Review for Licensed/Permitted Commercial Space Transportation Activities, Commercial Space Transportation analyzes the environmental impacts of proposed licensed and permitted actions, including the licensing of launch and reentry activities, the operation of launch and reentry sites, and the issuing of permits for suborbital reusable rockets. It then takes the appropriate action required under NEPA.

Commercial Space Transportation also manages the potential environmental consequences of its own operations through a proactive, systematic approach under its Environmental Management System (EMS). Executive Order 13148, Greening the Government through Leadership in Environmental Management, established the EMS requirement for all Federal agencies on April 21, 2000.

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Environmental Review Process for Licensed/Permitted Commercial Space Transportation Activities

Environmental Review is one of several mandatory steps in the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation license or permit application process.

The environmental review for your application must meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (42 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 4321 et seq.), the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 1500 to 1508), and FAA Order 1050.1F. This document is not a substitute for these requirements; rather, it is a guide to FAA's environmental review process.

What is the environmental review process?

Commercial Space Transportation complies with Federal environmental statutes, regulations, and Executive Orders through their Environmental Review Process. Although the licensing and permitting processes differ, the environmental review portion is similar for both licensing and permitting, and is therefore addressed together.

National Environmental Policy Act

  • NEPA is a U.S. environmental statute which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970.
  • NEPA emphasizes the Federal government's leadership role in ensuring that environmental impacts are factored into the Federal decision-making process.
  • Federal agencies to develop their own NEPA-implementing procedures in order to better address each agency's specific mandates, obligations, and missions.
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) Order 5610.1C, Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts, establishes procedures for consideration of environmental impacts in decision making for proposed DOT actions.
  • FAA Order 1050.1F, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, provides FAA's agency-wide policies and procedures to ensure agency compliance with the requirements set forth in the CEQ Regulations for implementing NEPA. In addition to FAA Order 1050.1F, there are other NEPA-implementing policies and procedures that may be applicable to your proposal, including FAA Order 5050.4B, NEPA Implementing Instructions for Airport Actions.

The National Environmental Policy Act Process

The NEPA process ensures that:

  • Commercial Space Transportation decision makers understand the potential environmental impacts of proposed licensing and permitting activities;
  • Commercial Space Transportation fully discloses the potential impacts to the human environment from the proposed activities; and
  • Commercial Space Transportation evaluates the reasonable alternatives to the proposed activities.

In general, the NEPA process includes the following six steps:

  1. Initial identification of issues and concerns
  2. Coordination with other Federal, state, or local agencies to determine which entities should be included in the NEPA process
  3. Identification of the appropriate type of environmental review (see The Types of Commercial Space Transportation Environmental Review, below)
  4. Preparation of the draft NEPA document, and public involvement, as appropriate
  5. Preparation of the final NEPA document
  6. Issuance of the environmental determination

During the NEPA process, Commercial Space Transportation will analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with your proposed activities. After all environmental analysis requirements are satisfied, Commercial Space Transportation will prepare a finding or decision document which will become part of the license or permit evaluation for your application.

The Types of Commercial Space Transportation Environmental Review

The primary types of Commercial Space Transportation environmental review are EAs and EISs. In limited situations, you may also encounter a third type of environmental review, categorical exclusions. The types of review differ based on FAA's determination of the potential for significant impacts.

Categorical exclusions are those categories of actions that FAA has determined do not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment and therefore, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, do not normally require preparation of an EA or EIS (see 40 CFR § 1508.4). See Paragraph 5-6 of FAA Order 1050.1F for FAA's approved list of categorical exclusions. While there are generally no FAA categorical exclusions that address Commercial Space Transportation licensing and permitting actions, small facility actions (e.g., limited expansion of perimeter fencing or other similarly minor development items) may fall within the scope of the categorical exclusions provided in Paragraph 5-6.

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Environmental Assessments (EA)

Environmental Assessments (EA) ProcessAn EA is a concise document used to describe a Proposed Action's anticipated environmental impacts. As stated in FAA Order 1050.1F Paragraph 3-1.2, the purpose of an EA is to determine whether a Proposed 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. A general overview of the primary steps for preparing EAs is provided in Exhibit 2-1.

Public involvement for EAs and FONSIs should include, at a minimum, reasonable public notice of the availability of the EA and FONSI. Commercial Space Transportation will work with you to determine the level of public involvement that is required, and this determination will be based on the nature of your proposal and the level of public interest in the action. For most Commercial Space Transportation actions, you can anticipate a public review and comment period of 30 days. After the public review and comment period, Commercial Space Transportation will review and consider public comments, and may ask you to revise the environmental analysis based on these comments.

When preparing an EA to submit to Commercial Space Transportation, please note that Commercial Space Transportation must still independently evaluate and take responsibility for the EA. If Commercial Space Transportation is not satisfied with your EA, Commercial Space Transportation may ask you to correct any deficiencies and re-submit the document for subsequent Commercial Space Transportation review.

If An EA demonstrates that your proposal would not result in significant environmental impacts, Commercial Space Transportation will prepare and issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which presents Commercial Space Transportation's findings and provides the rationale for why the project would not have a significant impact on the environment. Only after a FONSI has been issued can a license or permit be issued.

A FONSI does not represent an Commercial Space Transportation decision to issue a license or permit; it documents the basis for the Commercial Space Transportation determination that issuance of the license or permit would not result in potentially significant environmental impacts.

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Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)EIS Process

If an Commercial Space Transportation Environmental Specialist anticipates that significant impacts would result from your proposal, Commercial Space Transportation must prepare an EIS. An EIS is a clear, concise, and appropriately detailed document that provides the agency decisionmakers and the public with a full and fair discussion of the significant environmental impacts of the Proposed Action and reasonable alternatives.

Commercial Space Transportation is responsible for the preparation of EISs. As a result, while you may help in formulating the description of the Proposed Action, developing a preliminary range of alternatives, and gathering and analyzing background data and information, Commercial Space Transportation must lead the preparation of the EIS. Commercial Space Transportation must also take the lead in the scoping process, initiate consultation with other applicable agencies, and file the EIS with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A third-party contracting arrangement for development of the EIS may also be used (see Chapter 4. Who Pays for the Environmental Review?).

Like an EA, an EIS defines the purpose and need for project, considers a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts of the proposal and its alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other Executive Orders and environmental laws. An EIS should also contain measures that avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate environmental impacts when possible. An EIS is typically much more detailed than an EA, and the EIS process requires more prescriptive and intensive public involvement and participation.

A general overview of the primary steps for preparing EISs is provided in Exhibit 2-2 below. The first three steps in the EIS process revolve around the scoping process, which is required for EISs. Preparation of an EIS results in a Record of Decision (ROD), which is a document that records Commercial Space Transportation's decision on the project and presents Commercial Space Transportation's rationale for making that decision (see 40 CFR § 1505.2).

A ROD does not represent an Commercial Space Transportation decision to issue a license or permit; it documents the basis for the Commercial Space Transportation determination and presents Commercial Space Transportation's rationale for making that decision.

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Changes to Your Proposal

Following completion of an initial EA or EIS, certain modifications to your proposal may necessitate additional environmental review. These modifications could include:

  • Changes in propellant combination or quantities;
  • Modifications to proposed construction activities or locations;
  • An increase in the frequency of launch operations; or
  • A change in vehicle parameters.

If there are changes to your proposal following the development of an EA or EIS, you should coordinate with an Commercial Space Transportation Environmental Specialist to determine whether or not you will need to prepare a supplemental EA or EIS.

Supplemental NEPA Documentation

A supplemental NEPA document is an environmental analysis that is prepared to expand on or amend a previously prepared EA or EIS. According to section 1502.9 of the CEQ Regulations, supplemental NEPA review is required if there have been substantial changes to a Proposed Action (for which an EA or EIS has already been prepared) or significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns.

The same requirements for EAs and EISs also apply to supplemental documents; therefore, they should be prepared, circulated, and filed in the same manner as the original EA or EIS. Supplemental documents are also typically prepared by the same entity that prepared the original NEPA document; so just as for EAs and EISs, you may prepare supplemental EAs, but you may only participate in development of a supplemental EIS through a third-party contracting arrangement.

Written Re-evaluations

There may be some situations in which it is not clear whether preparation of supplemental analysis is necessary (i.e., you may be uncertain whether the proposed change is "substantial", or whether the new circumstances or information is "significant" — see FAA Order 1050.1F, Paragraph 4-3). In these situations, Commercial Space Transportation may decide to prepare a written re-evaluation to assist in determining if supplemental analysis is required.

A written re-evaluation is an administrative document used by Commercial Space Transportation to re-examine a previously prepared EA or EIS to determine whether or not a supplemental EA or EIS is needed. A written re-evaluation is not a NEPA document and cannot be used as a substitute for an EA or EIS. Rather, a written re-evaluation is used to verify that the conclusions in the previously prepared EA or EIS are still current and valid. Commercial Space Transportation may request that you prepare a written re-evaluation to support Commercial Space Transportation's decision on the issuance or renewal of your license or permit. For more information about written re-evaluations, including detailed instructions on how to prepare them, see the stand-alone document Guidance for Preparing Written Re-evaluations.

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Time Limits

As stated in FAA Order 1050.1F, draft EAs may be assumed valid for a period of three years. If the approving FAA official has not issued a FONSI within three years of receipt of the final draft EA, a written re-evaluation must be prepared (see Paragraph 9-1.a). Similarly, draft EISs may be assumed valid for a period of three years. If the proposed final EIS Is not submitted for approval within three years of draft EIS circulation, a written re-evaluation must be prepared (see Paragraph 9-1.c). These time limits do not apply to programmatic EAs and EISs, which may be valid for longer time periods.

If for some reason there is a delay in implementing your proposal that exceeds this three-year window, the NEPA review for your project may need to be updated in some manner — either through a written re-evaluation or the development of a supplemental EA or EIS. As stated in FAA Order 1050.1F, Paragraphs 9-1.b(1) and 9-1.d(1), if major steps toward implementation of your proposal have not begun within three years after issuance of a FONSI or ROD, a written re-evaluation needs to be prepared. Additionally, if a proposal is to be implemented in stages or requires successive Federal approvals (e.g., renewal of an existing license or permit), a written re-evaluation of the continued adequacy, accuracy, and validity of the original NEPA document will need to be developed at each major approval point that occurs more than three years after issuance of the FONSI or ROD (see Paragraphs 9-1.b(2) and 9-1.d(2)).

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Other Environmental Laws and Requirements

In addition to NEPA, Commercial Space Transportation must ensure compliance with other Federal laws and requirements, including but not limited to:

  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • National Historic Preservation Act
  • U.S. Department of Transportation Act, Section 4(f)
  • Executive Order 11990, Protection of Wetlands
  • Executive Order 11988, Floodplain Management
  • Executive Order 12114, Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions
  • Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations
  • Executive Order 13045, Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks

Integrating NEPA compliance with that of other applicable Federal, state, and local laws and requirements is required by Paragraph 1-8 of FAA Order 1050.1F and the CEQ Regulations (see 40 CFR §§ 1502.25 (a) and (b)). It serves to:

  • Avoid duplication of effort for laws which have similar impact analysis requirements
  • Prevent project delays that would occur should NEPA and permitting or consultation processes be conducted sequentially and possibly with differing results
  • Provide consistent information useful for all project reviews and planning
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and impact analysis between the agencies or entities with the most relevant subject matter expertise, thus improving the robustness of FAA's NEPA review and its usefulness in FAA decision-making

Failure to properly consider and integrate other applicable federal, state, and local laws and requirements in the NEPA process may result in lengthy project delays. A determination that the NEPA document has not considered all relevant environmental impacts or involved other agencies, as appropriate, could result in Commercial Space Transportation's reconsideration of your proposal and/or preparation of supplemental NEPA review.

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Last updated: Friday, December 23, 2022