Providing program management for the Oregon Department of Transportation's
OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program


NEPA and Documented Categorical Exclusions (DCEs)

What is a DCE?

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), any federal action requires documentation of the findings of assessment of the potential environmental impacts of that action. However, when the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) developed the CEQ Regulations Implementing NEPA, they realized that many federal actions would inherently have little or no environmental impact. Therefore, they defined a class of actions called Categorical Exclusions. A Categorical Exclusion (CE) is defined (in part) as:

"a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and which have been found to have no such effect... and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required."

A list of specific action classes not normally requiring NEPA documentation is set forth in the so-called "C" list in 23 CFR 771.117(c).

In addition, a second group of actions may also qualify as CEs if it can be demonstrated that the context in which the action is taken warrants a CE exclusion; i.e., that no significant environmental impact will occur. Thus, these actions are referred to as Documented Categorical Exclusions or DCEs. Such actions require some NEPA documentation, but not an Environmental Assessment or a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement. Actions which may qualify as DCEs are set forth in the so-called "D" list in 23 CRF 771.117(d) (Mistake on site; titled "C" List; content is for "D" List).

DCEs will qualify as CEs only if appropriate documentation demonstrates that in the context(s) in which these actions are to be performed, they will have no significant environmental impact or that such impacts will be mitigated. For each bridge covered under the OTIA III program, ODOT has provided a Part 3 - Project Environmental Classification of the Project Prospectus, commonly referred to as the DCE . The DCE, the baseline reports, and the relevant performance standards together constitute the required documentation that the proposed activities at a given bridge site qualify as NEPA Documented Categorical Exclusions.

What benefits does the DCE provide?

The Part 3 - Project Environmental Classification portion of the Project Prospectus extracts and summarizes information from the engineering and environmental baseline reports. However, it goes beyond those reports to present general conclusions about the anticipated impacts of the proposed actions at a given bridge site. In particular, for each major area of environmental concern, it lists the anticipated impacts of the proposed actions at the bridge site, along with an assessment of impact minimization measures. If impact minimization measures are required, summary recommendations for avoidance or minimization are given. And, where specific performance standards have been developed to minimize or avoid these impacts, the reader is referred to the relevant performance standard(s).

Thus, the DCE:

  • provides a quick, high-level identification of potential environmental issues at a given site, and
  • highlights the performance standards applicable to that site.

Who uses the DCE, and how?

The DCE for a given bridge site is an essential document in ensuring that proposed site activities conform to OTIA III programmatic requirements.

Environmental professionals acting as part of design and construction engineering teams will refer to the DCE documentation to identify anticipated impacts of project activities at a given site, as well as appropriate impact minimization measures. Once an impact has been identified, the environmental professional will then consult the relevant performance standard(s) to enable the team to ensure that design or construction activities meet the performance standard(s).

The DCE documentation also identifies impacts that will need to be monitored as design and construction site activities proceed.

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