December 26, 2004: Creation of Two Hypersonic Flight Corridors

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The public comment period ended for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for two potential hypersonic flight corridors. The study, drafted by the AFFTC with support from the Dryden DFRC, called for planning two ultra-high-speed corridors from Edwards some 40 to 60 miles into Nevada and Utah. The DEIS would make it easier to reserve airspace that would poise the USAF and NASA for the testing of future hypersonic aerospace vehicles.

This is the process of Environmental Impact Statement

  • Proposal: In this stage, the needs and objectives of a project have been decided, but the project has not been financed.
  • Categorical Exclusion (CATEX): As discussed above, the government may exempt an agency from the process. The agency can then proceed with the project and skip the remaining steps.
  • Environmental Assessment (EA): The proposal is analyzed in addition to the local environment with the aim to reduce the negative impacts of the development on the area.[5]
  • Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI): Occurs when no significant impacts are identified in an EA. A FONSI typically allows the lead agency to proceed without having to complete an EIS.

Environmental Impact Statement

  • Scoping: The first meetings are held to discuss existing laws, the available information, and the research needed. The tasks are divided up and a lead group is selected. Decision makers and all those involved with the project can attend the meetings.[5]
  • Notice: The public is notified that the agency is preparing an EIS. The agency also provides the public with information regarding how they can become involved in the process.[5] The agency announces its project proposal with a notice in the Federal Register, notices in local media, and letters to citizens and groups that it knows are likely to be interested. Citizens and groups are welcome to send in comments helping the agency identify the issues it must address in the EIS (or EA).
  • Draft EIS (DEIS): Based on both agency expertise and issues raised by the public, the agency prepares a Draft EIS with a full description of the affected environment, a reasonable range of alternatives, and an analysis of the impacts of each alternative.
  • Comment: Affected individuals then have the opportunity to provide feedback through written and public hearing statements.[5]
  • Final EIS (FEIS) and Proposed Action: Based on the comments on the Draft EIS, the agency writes a Final EIS, and announces its Proposed Action. The public is not invited to comment on this, but if they are still unhappy, or feel that the agency has missed a major issue, they may protest the EIS to the Director of the agency. The Director may either ask the agency to revise the EIS, or explain to the protester why their complaints are not actually taken care of.
  • Re-evaluation: Prepared following an approved FEIS or ROD when unforeseen changes to the proposed action or its impacts occurs, or when a substantial period of time has passed between approval of an action and the planned start of said action. Based on the significance of the changes, three outcomes may result from a re-evaluation report: (1) the action may proceed with no substantive changes to the FEIS, (2) significant impacts are expected with the change that can be adequately addressed in a Supplemental EIS (SEIS), or (3) the circumstances force a complete change in the nature and scope of the proposed action, thereby voiding the pre-existing FEIS (and ROD, if applicable), requiring the lead agency to restart the NEPA process and prepare a new EIS to encompass the changes.
  • Supplemental EIS (SEIS): Typically prepared after either a Final EIS or Record of Decision has been issued and new environmental impacts that were not considered in the original EIS are discovered, requiring the lead agency to re-evaluate its initial decision and consider new alternatives to avoid or mitigate the new impacts. Supplemental EISs are also prepared when the size and scope of a federal action changes, when a significant period of time has lapsed since the FEIS was completed to account for changes in the surrounding environment during that time, or when all of the proposed alternatives in an EIS are deemed to have unacceptable environmental impacts and new alternatives are proposed.
  • Record of Decision (ROD): Once all the protests are resolved the agency issues a Record of Decision which is its final action prior to implementation. If members of the public are still dissatisfied with the outcome, they may sue the agency in Federal court.

Often, the agencies responsible for preparing an EA or EIS do not compile the document directly, but outsource this work to private-sector consulting firms with expertise in the proposed action and its anticipated effects on the environment. Because of the intense level of detail required in analyzing the alternatives presented in an EIS or EA, such documents may take years or even decades to compile, and often compose of multiple volumes that can be thousands to tens of thousands of pages in length.  To avoid potential conflicts in securing required permits and approvals after the ROD is issued, the lead agency will often coordinate with stakeholders at all levels, and resolve any conflicts to the greatest extent possible during the EIS process. Proceeding in this fashion helps avoid interagency conflicts and potential lawsuits after the lead agency reaches its decision

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