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Federal Environmental Impact Statement

A. Legal Authority

  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Public Law 91-190, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.
  • Title 40 C F R, Parts 1500-1508, Council on Environmental Quality Guidelines


B. Purpose

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) established a process for review of the environmental impacts of actions taken by the federal government, including related economic, social and cultural effects. This review is intended to ensure that environmental concerns are examined and alternatives considered prior to making the final decision on a project or action. This is accomplished by the preparation of either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that describes the environmental impacts of a project and discusses alternative actions and mitigation measures. The document is meant to inform stakeholders that are able to offer comments so that the responsible agency can make an informed decision.

C. Applicability to Aquaculture

Environmental review is required for any federal agency’s decision involving the following actions which have the potential to significantly affect the human environment: funding and conducting projects and programs; agency rules, plans, and policies; and legislative proposals. Federal agencies may allow categorical exemptions for activities which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect of the human environment. If a project is not categorically exempt, an EA must be prepared that briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining if the project will have a significant effect and require an EIS. If no significant effect is found, the agency can make a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and the project can proceed in the permit process.

If the reviewing agency concludes the project will have a significant effect, an EIS must be prepared. An EIS is a full and fair discussion of the significant environmental impacts and should inform the public and the decision makers as to project details and reasonable alternatives to minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the environment.

Aquaculture related activities are not exempt under current law and regulations. 23 Actions that could require a federal environmental review include: proposed projects involving sites listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; dredging and filling of wetlands and other waters; activities in navigable waters, including both state and federal waters out to 200 nautical miles; and activities affecting protected and endangered species.

Private companies and individuals become involved in NEPA when they need a permit issued by a federal agency. The agency receiving the permit application must evaluate the environmental effects of the potential permit decision. If an EA or EIS is required, the private individual or company will be asked to pay for analysis, but the agency remains responsible for the scope and accuracy of the study.

D. Administering Agency

Every agency in the Executive Branch of the federal government has a responsibility to implement NEPA. Activities which trigger NEPA include: providing funding, issuing permits, or undertaking a project. The responsible agency must determine the need for an EIS and coordinate preparation and review.

The NEPA process and requirements may differ slightly between federal agencies. If more than one agency is involved, then the agency with the most significant involvement or concerns will usually be designated the “lead” agency. Federal agencies must, to the fullest extent possible, cooperate with state and local agencies to reduce the duplication between federal, state and local environmental review requirements. Such cooperation includes: 1) joint planning processes; 2) joint environmental research; 3) joint hearings; and 4) joint EAs or EISs.

Generally, preparation of a single environmental review document will suffice for federal, state and local compliance. More information can be obtained at NEPA net, the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA web site, that includes links to statutes, regulations, NEPA procedures by federal agency, and federal agency NEPA web sites and contacts [].

E. Information Requirements

General format and informational requirements are detailed in cited regulations and the NEPA web site. These requirements are similar to those for environmental reviews at the state level, which are detailed in the state EIS section of this document. As indicated above, each federal agency typically has its own specific requirements concerning the preparation of EAs and EISs that may differ from the basic format.

Generally, the purpose of an EA is to determine the significance of the environmental effects and look at alternative means to achieve the agency’s objectives. The EA is intended to be a concise document that: 1) provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining if an EIS is required; 2) satisfies the agency’s compliance with NEPA when an EIS is not necessary; and, 3) when necessary, facilitates EIS preparation. Important information to address includes: 1) a need statement; 2) alternative courses of action to achieve the objective; 3) environmental impacts of the proposed action; 4) alternatives; and, 5) a list of agencies and persons contacted.

An EIS must describe the full scope of the activity and consider direct and indirect environmental impacts of the activity over time. Such impacts include changes in land use patterns, energy supply and demand, floodplain development, air and water quality, noise levels, water resource use, wetlands, coastal zone, and fish and wildlife habitat.

F. Public Participation

When preparing an EA, the agency has discretion as to the level of public involvement. The CEQ regulations state that the agency shall involve environmental agencies, applicants, and the public, to the extent practicable, in preparing EAs. Sometimes the agency may mirror the public comment procedure in the EIS process, while in other situations they may simply make the EA and draft FONSI available to interested individual groups.

When an EIS is required, the agency must solicit public comment on the draft EIS. A public hearing will be held when required by the agency’s enabling statutes or regulations or when the agency deems it appropriate considering the degree of environmental controversy or public interest. The agency must respond to written comments and comments received at public hearings as part of the preparation of the final EIS and its publication.

G. Process Time

Once a draft EA and EIS are completed and accepted for processing, the time requirement to complete the environmental review will vary depending on the scope of the proposed project, the magnitude of the impacts, and the number of federal, state and local permits required. Periods of three to six months for a minor non-controversial project, and a year or more for major actions with significant impacts would not be unusual.

H. Sequence of Filing

The environmental review process must be completed prior to a final decision on the proposed project by the federal agency(s) involved. The environmental review process should be started early in the planning process to provide information for the project design and to ensure the timely processing of required permits.

I. Cost

The cost of preparing the environmental review documents is highly variable, depending on the location, size and scope of the project, its potential impacts, the number of permits involved and the amount of public concern surrounding the project.

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Department of Agriculture – Aquaculture and Livestock Services
99-941 Halawa Valley Street
Aiea, Hawaii 96701-5602
Phone: 808-483-7130
Fax: 808-483-7110
Web site:


Pacific Region Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Hub
2525 Correa Road, HIG 238
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: (808) 956-7031

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