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Categorical Exclusion

What is it?

The lowest level of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis is that given to CATEXs (also called CX, CatEx, CatX, etc.).

  • "Categorical exclusion" means a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and which have been found to have no such effect in procedures adopted by a Federal agency in implementation of these regulations (Sec. 1507.3) and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required . . . 40 CFR 1508.4
  • "Extraordinary Circumstances" CATEX lists must provide for "extraordinary circumstances" under which, in essence, a CATEX is not a CATEX, and further analysis is required.
  • Any procedures under this section shall provide for extraordinary circumstances in which a normally excluded action may have a significant environmental effect. 40 CFR 1508.4

Extraordinary circumstances, and ways of screening CATEX assignments to determine whether or not such circumstances exist, are set forth in each agency's NEPA procedures. Based on the regulatory definition of the term "significantly" at 40 CFR 1508.27, agencies typically list as extraordinary circumstances such situations as those where public health may be affected, where wetlands, endangered species, or historic properties may be adversely affected, where there are unique risks or uncertainties about impacts, and where a violation of law or environmental protection procedures may occur. Often an agency will use a "checklist" to tick off possible "extraordinary circumstances."

Some agencies conduct or contract for CATEX screening studies under various names. These studies are done in order to determine whether "extraordinary circumstances" exist that require further review.

Typically, such a study will involve a quick review of the project site and its surroundings, consultation with local authorities and other knowledgeable parties, and a study of pertinent background requirements. It may result in a short written report or simply in completion of a checklist.

A CATEX screening study may provide the context in which the agency addresses other environmental review requirements, such as those under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The Section 106 regulations, 36 CFR 800, issued by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), make a point of requiring agencies to consider whether a categorically excluded project requires review under Section 106.

If a project, activity or program is categorically excluded from NEPA review under an agency's NEPA procedures, the Agency Official shall determine if it still qualifies as an undertaking requiring review under Section 106 pursuant to Sec. 800.3(a). If so, the Agency Official shall proceed with Section 106 review in accordance with the procedures in this subpart. 36 CFR 800.8(b)

This emphasizes that:

  • Section 106 and NEPA are separate authorities; the fact that something is excluded from NEPA review does not mean it is excluded from Section 106 review; and
  • Potential impacts on historic properties are among the potential "extraordinary circumstances" that need to be considered when screening a CatEx.

Need more information?

If you are analyzing a project to see if it should be categorically excluded, see Analyst's Tips. If you are reviewing a project that an agency may be categorically excluding, see Reviewer's Tips.

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