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Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review Process
The UFR Process was established on July 29, 2014, by the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding Establishing the Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review Process (UFR MOU) among eleven Federal agencies involved in the environmental or historic preservation (EHP) reviews associated with disaster recovery assistance. The establishment of the UFR Process was mandated in the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act (SRIA) of 2013, which added Section 429 to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
Specifically, Section 429 of SRIA was added, directing the President, in consultation with the Council on Environmental Quality and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, 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." Prior to SRIA, state, tribal, territorial, and local governments who applied for assistance to recover from damage caused by a disaster were required to have their recovery projects undergo different agencies' environmental and historic preservation reviews. Often the same data was required from various agencies to comply with the legal requirements.
The UFR provides an opportunity to expedite environmental and historic preservation reviews that must be completed prior to the release of Federal assistance or permits so the disaster recovery project can proceed without delays.
The goal of the process is to formalize and standardize the unification of both environmental and historic preservation regulatory requirements so that agencies can take advantage of the same project approval mechanisms and resources to expedite the environmental and historic preservation reviews necessary for more timely decisions on disaster recovery projects.
Development of a UFR Process is being led by a Steering Group consisting of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in addition to a larger working group that includes representation from other agencies who continue to work on identifying ways to enhance efficiencies in environmental and historic preservation reviews.
To develop a coordinated and unified process, five critical elements were identified to drive the development of the UFR. Each element is designed to support the overall process that will help Federal agencies complete their environmental and historic preservation reviews in a more timely and efficient manner, leading to more efficient decisions with the ultimate goal of building more resilient communities.
The five elements of the process include:
Recognizing the challenges identified in unifying the environmental and historic preservation review process across multiple Federal agencies, the Steering Group developed a phased implementation plan for the process. Compliance with the legislative requirements will occur in three phases:
The UFR will improve the Federal government's ability to assist states, tribes, territories and governments, communities, families and individual citizens as they recover from future presidentially declared disasters.
For more information on related efforts:
Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
Implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Modernizing Infrastructure Permitting
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.
The Unified Federal Review was established on July 29, 2014, through an interagency Memorandum of Understanding by eleven different Federal agencies.
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 UFR 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.
The number of recent devastating disasters (see graphs) and the rising associated costs also guide the Federal government's efforts to establish more efficient and expeditious environmental and historic preservation reviews.
It is the intention of the Unified Federal Review Steering Group to engage stakeholders to gather comments and feedback on how to better improve the Unified Federal Review Process.
For more information on the Unified Federal Review, please visit http://www.fema.gov/environmental-historic-preservation/unified-federal-environmental-and-historic-preservation-review
If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.
Updated November 2, 2014