Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4331-4335, the Surface Transportation Board is required to examine the potential environmental impacts of many actions subject to its jurisdiction. The STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) is responsible for ensuring the agency’s compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws.
OEA’s environmental review process is governed by regulations promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality implementing NEPA, 40 C.F.R. §§ 1500 to 1518, and the STB’s own environmental regulations, 49 C.F.R. Part 1105. In addition to NEPA, the STB’s regulations also implement other environmental statutes, such as the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The STB’s regulations explain:
The environmental review documents issued by OEA, such as final and draft environmental impact statements, environmental assessments, and notices of public meetings, are part of the formal record for that proceeding and can be found along with all other Board decisions and formal filings in the record using the Search STB Record function on the website. All other documentation that is part of the environmental review is archived under Environmental Comments, which can be accessed under the menu for “Proceedings & Actions.”
Section 106 of the NHPA, 54 U.S.C. § 300301, imposes a responsibility on federal agencies to “take into account the effect of” their licensing decisions on properties included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the National Register of Historic Places, and, prior to approval of an undertaking, to afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) a reasonable opportunity to comment. ACHP has promulgated implementing regulations for NHPA at 36 C.F.R. §§ 800 – 812.
OEA implements the Section 106 process in railroad licensing proceedings. These include proceedings in which a railroad seeks Board authorization to abandon a rail line or acquire or construct a new rail line. The STB’s environmental regulations also include provisions on historic preservation, which can be found at 49 C.F.R. § 1105.8. The regulations detail the types of actions for which railroad applicants must prepare and submit historic reports. These historic reports are intended to provide OEA and relevant State Historic Preservation Officer(s) with sufficient information to conduct the Section 106 consultation process required by NHPA. The regulations also set forth the types of actions that generally do not affect historic sites and structures, and therefore do not require a historic report. The STB generally combines the Section 106 process with its NEPA process since Board actions subject to Section 106 usually require some form of NEPA documentation. More information on the Board’s historic preservation review process is available here.
In some instances, particularly in rail line construction cases, OEA uses third-party contractors to assist in preparing the environmental documentation necessary to comply with NEPA and other related environmental laws in STB proceedings. For more information about the process for using third-party contractors in the environmental review process, including a list of OEA-approved third-party contractors, click here.
To help parties understand the environmental and historic preservation regulations, a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) is available here. The FAQs are intended to assist parties in understanding and applying the Board’s environmental rules. They highlight the various environmental and historic reporting requirements, notice requirements, actions that are exempt from environmental and historic review, and the types of environmental documents generally prepared for actions before the Board.
Questions concerning the environmental rules may be addressed to:
Questions concerning OEA’s general processing of cases, public use conditions, trails use, and offers of financial assistance to continue rail service should be directed to the Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance at 202-245-0238.