NTIA Streamlines NEPA Permitting for “Internet for All” Projects

The NTIA adopted 30 new “categorical exclusions” established to support National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for broadband infrastructure deployments funded by the Internet for All programs. NTIA has relied on 11 categorical exclusions established by the Department of Commerce in 2009 that remain available to support NEPA reviews. This is the third action in as many weeks by NTIA to provide what it calls “common-sense permitting relief” to Internet for All grantees and sub-grantees and as several funded projects prepare for the construction phase.   

NTIA also adopted six additional categorical exclusions from the First Responder Network Authority. The nation’s communication network for first responders is an independent agency within NTIA.  

Categorical exclusions are action categories that a federal agency has determined do not have a significant effect on the human environment and therefore typically require neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement. Their use can reduce paperwork and save time and resources, says NTIA.

According to NTIA, broadband deployment projects generally have limited potential for significant environmental impacts. NTIA states its record of related NEPA reviews supports expanding the list of actions to be excluded from detailed environmental review.

Examples of activities potentially excluded from detailed environmental assessment include, but are not limited to:

  • Administrative actions such as recruiting, policy development, studies, testing that doesn’t disturb the ground, and routine procurement of non-hazardous goods and services.
  • Real property and facilities actions such as maintenance, internal modifications/renovations to existing structures, abatement of hazardous materials, and certain real property transactions.
  • Operational actions such as new construction of non-tower structures in previously developed areas, new construction of certain self-supporting wireless communications towers, and acquisition, installation, reconstruction, repair by replacement, and operation of aerial or buried utility, communications, and security systems. Operational actions can also include research within closed facilities and outdoor research activities.
  • Certain network deployment activities categorically excluded under the FirstNet Implementing Procedures, such as construction of buried and aerial telecommunications lines and cables, changes or additions to sites supporting telecommunication service, rebuilding/relocation of power or telecommunications lines due to highway reconstruction, and deployment of mobile communications networks.

Find detailed lists in the National Environmental Policy Act Procedures and Categorical Exclusions and Adoption of FirstNet Categorical Exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act pages.

NTIA will also adopt five regional Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements (PEIS) analyzing the deployment of FirstNet, which included infrastructure similar to NTIA’s IFA programs. Expanding the availability of categorical exclusions and enabling programmatic efficiencies like tiering off these PEISs can expedite infrastructure deployment by streamlining NEPA requirements, says NTIA.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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