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Unified Federal Review
On January 29, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA) which amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Recovery Act by adding Section 429, which directs the President to “establish an expedited and unified interagency review process to ensure compliance with environmental and historic requirements under federal law relating to disaster recovery projects, in order to expedite the recovery process, consistent with applicable law.” This process is to be established by July 29, 2014, with the goal of improving federal and state decision-making to allow for more predictable outcomes from planning and implementing disaster recovery projects. This can improve the federal government’s assistance to states, local, and tribal governments, communities, families and individual citizens as they recover from future presidentially declared disasters. This is not a stand-alone process; rather it will align with other efforts charged with improving efficiencies in federal decision-making (e.g. National Disaster Recovery Framework and Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force).
The development of a Unified Federal Review process is being led by a Steering Group consisting of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). The Steering Group is responsible for developing and implementing a process that enhances and improves efficiencies related to federal environmental and historic preservation reviews for disaster recovery projects. While the Unified Federal Review is required to establish efficiencies for environmental and historic preservation reviews for disasters declared by the President, it is the intent of the Steering Group that the processes and tools developed as the end result will be applicable to other disaster situations that are not covered under the Stafford Act.
The number of recent devastating disasters (see chart) and the rising associated costs also guide the efforts to establish more efficient and expeditious environmental and historic preservation reviews.
For more information on related efforts:
Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 added Section 429 to the Stafford Act which directs the President to establish an expedited and unified interagency review process by July 29, 2014 for disaster recovery actions. The responsibility for implementing the Stafford Act has been delegated to DHS and its component, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
What are natural resources?
This term covers a wide array of resources to include land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies, and other such resources managed by or otherwise controlled by the United States, any state or local government, any foreign government, or any Indian Tribe. [CERCLA §101 (16)]
What are cultural resources and historic properties?
Defined under the NHPA, historic properties are prehistoric or historic districts, sites, buildings, structures or objects that are included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under the NHPA. The determination of eligibility is made by the National Register of Historic Places or State Historic Preservation Officers, in coordination with federal agencies. Properties of traditional religious and cultural importance to an Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization may also be considered eligible for listing in the National Register. [36 C.F.R. §800.16(1)(1)]
Cultural resources, as defined in the NEPA regulations include sacred sites, archaeological sites and archaeological collections, as well historic properties that may not be eligible for the NRHP.
By their very nature, actions taken to recover from major disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods can have a significant impact on natural and cultural resources and historic properties within communities. When federal agencies are called upon to provide assistance with disaster recovery, they must fulfill the requirements of federal review and permitting responsibilities. federal agencies are required to determine if their proposed actions have significant impacts on the natural and built environment through procedural laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Additional review may be required for actions which require consideration under the Endangered Species Act, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Bridge Permitting authority. There are a range of actions that trigger environmental and historic preservation reviews in disaster recovery, for example: providing permits for private action such as stabilizing river banks or removing sediment within navigable waterways, replacing or repairing critical infrastructure, debris removal on federal lands and constructing publicly-owned facilities, such as post offices.
The goal of these compliance requirements is to ensure that federal agencies consider the impact of a proposed project on public health and safety, security, the environment, and community resources so that these impacts are avoided, minimized, or mitigated.
A Unified Federal Review can expedite disaster recovery projects, enhance consistency in review processes across federal agencies, and assist agencies in better leveraging their resources and tools. Increasing efficiencies in reviews will benefit federal agencies and result in better management of resources, but, most importantly, will work to better serve communities in post-disaster recovery.
To help with this task, three working groups (Policy, Capacity Building and Data/Information Technology) will inform the Steering Group. Each of the working groups is led by one of the three Steering Group members (CEQ, ACHP and DHS) with the exception of FEMA who is active on all three groups. The Steering Group invited several other federal agencies with technical and subject matter expertise related to environmental and historic resources and disaster recovery to participate on the working groups and assist in this effort.
The working groups will identify ways to enhance efficiencies in environmental and historic preservation reviews so that those impacted by disaster will be the beneficiaries of an improved and more efficient federal review process that expedites the delivery of recovery actions. Throughout the process, a diverse set of interested stakeholders will be consulted with to maximize results and inform both the working groups and the Steering Group.
It is the intention of the Unified Federal Review Steering Group to engage interested stakeholders to gather input that will help develop the Unified Federal Review process for environmental and historic preservation reviews. We will update the site as necessary to include additional relevant information, as well as, our efforts on stakeholder engagement.
If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.
Updated March 6, 2014