Below are brief summaries of the major environmental laws the Corps must comply with to build and operate various projects, along with information on how the Environmental and Cultural Rescources Branch (ECRB) ensures the Seattle District meets all applicable environmental requirements. A complete description of these environmental laws and other applicable regulations, including more detailed compliance procedures, is available in the Civil Works Environmental Desk Reference.
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Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act (CWA) was enacted to conserve and restore the quality of the nation's waterways. As part of this legislation, the Corps of Engineers was given the responsibility of issuing dredge and fill permits (Section 404 permits) for activities in "waters of the U.S." Waters of the U.S. include lakes, streams, special aquatic sites, and wetlands. Please to refer to the Regulatory Branch website for more details on the Corps' Regulatory Program.
When the Corps constructs a civil works project, it does not issue permits to itself. Instead the Corps follows a process similar to the established permit process. This parallel process is administered by ERS rather than Regulatory Branch. Delineation of wetlands and other waters of the U.S. is still required, as is an alternatives analysis, a 404(b)(1) analysis, and the identification of mitigation measures. For most Corps projects, a 401 Water Quality Certification issued by the affected state is also required.
Coastal Zone Management Act
Federal agencies proposing activities or development actions that are reasonably likely to affect the resources of the coastal zone are required to assure that those activities are consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with the approved state Coastal Zone Management programs. In Washington, this is the Shoreline Management Act and approved local programs. Regulatory permit actions must also be certified that they comply with state approved programs. At least 90 days before final approval of a project, the action agency must submit a Coastal Consistency Determination (CCD) to the appropriate state agency. In Washington, this is the Department of Ecology. The CCD documents how the proposed activity conforms to the approved shoreline plan for the project area. The state then has 45 days to respond to the action agency's determination.
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) serves to identify species of plants and animals which are considered to be in danger of extinction. The law is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for terrestrial plants and animals, including resident fish, and by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for marine animals and anadromous fish. These two agencies are collectively referred to as "the Services." Compliance with requirements of Section 7 of the ESA are triggered when there is a "Federal Nexus," which occurs when a Federal agency is involved in constructing a project, providing funds for project implementation, or has regulatory jurisdiction over a proposed action. Federal action agencies are required to consider the impacts of proposed federal projects on threatened and endangered species found in the project area for proposed projects.
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA) requires that during planning for water resources projects, the Corps of Engineers consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and, where appropriate, the agency administering fish and wildlife resources for the affected state. The Corps has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the USFWS to produce Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act reports for water resources projects. The FWCA report provides an independent review of the proposed project, with an emphasis on documenting impacts to wildlife resources, identifying means to conserve those resources, and measures which could mitigate project impacts. For large projects the draft FWCA report is included in the draft NEPA documentation, and the final FWCA report appears in the final NEPA documentation. FWCA reports are typically not open for public comment, but they may appear on our Environmental Documents page.
National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the basic environmental policy for the nation. NEPA is an umbrella statue that sets up a process to document potential environmental impacts of proposed alternatives to help decision makers take environmental considerations into account in project selection. All Federal actions are subject to a NEPA review. NEPA also sets up a process to disclose information on the proposed project and solicit comments. Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA does not contain statues that help define project design. Rather, NEPA is a mechanism to identify and describe alternatives and their impacts, and possible ways to mitigate for those impacts. Every federal agency is required to have regulations for implementing NEPA. The Corps of Engineers operates according to two sets of regulations, Engineering Regulation (ER) 200-2-2 and Army Regulation (AR) 200-2-2, which describe procedures for implementing NEPA for civil works and Army projects, respectively.
National Historic Preservation Act
The National Historic Preservation Act helps Federal agencies actions and programs ("undertakings") avoid unnecessary adverse effects on important historic properties such as buildings, archaeological sites, and other places. Enacted in response to severe disruption of central cities that was caused by Urban Renewal programs of the 1950's and early 1960's, the Act created the executive-level Advisory Council on Historic Preservation ("Council") and chartered the Council to review national historic preservation policies and develop uniform regulations and procedures to carry out the Act. The Council also is required to review, resolve disputes about, and comment on the effects of specific agency undertakings on historic properties. In addition to the Council, the Act created state- and tribal-level government offices to review Federal agency undertakings; the chief officer is designated "State (or Tribal) Historic Preservation Officer" ("SHPO" or "THPO"). The HPO administer funds provided for operation of their offices under the authority of the NHPA. For further information about NHPA, you may check the Advisory Council's website.