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Compliance with the Commission's Rules Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

This document is prepared by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau's Spectrum and Competition Policy Division to assist wireless service carriers and tower owners in understanding the Commission's Rules implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq, and other Federal environmental statutes. This document is intended to serve as an informal guide only, and is NOT INTENDED to revise or replace the rules contained in Subpart I, Part 1 of the Commission's Rules, 47 C.F.R. §§ 1.1301 to 1.1319.

Parties might find it helpful to review the answers to frequently asked questions received by the Spectrum and Competition Policy Division. These answers are general in nature, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Commission or any individual Commissioner. Furthermore, the Bureau's positions reflected in these general responses may not apply to your individual factual circumstance. Please contact the Bureau's Spectrum and Competition Policy Division at (202) 418-1310 if you have additional questions on these compliance issues.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

NEPA is the basic national charter for protection of the environment. It requires all Federal agencies to implement procedures to make environmental consideration a necessary part of an agency's decision-making process. Specifically, NEPA and the regulatory guidelines established by the Council on Environmental Quality which implemented the Act, 40 C.F.R. §§ 1500 et seq., require all Federal agencies to take into account environmental consequences when making decisions which could be considered "major federal actions." The NEPA process also includes consideration of specific environmental impacts under other Federal statutes, including the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the Endangered Species Act.

The Commission complies with NEPA by requiring our licensees and applicants to review their proposed actions for environmental consequences. Our rules implementing NEPA are found at Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Subpart I, rule sections 1.1301 to 1.1319.

Section 1.1305 of these rules states that the Commission "has found no common pattern which would enable it to specify" any particular Commission actions that will normally have a significant impact on the environment. Thus, section 1.1306 of the Rules "categorically excluded from environmental processing" all Commission actions except for those specifically identified in section 1.1307.

With respect to towers filed for registration within the Antenna Structure Registration system, even if the tower is categorically excluded from environmental processing, it is still subject to notice requirements.

If a proposed action falls within one of the categories of 1.1307, section 1.1308(a) requires the licensee or applicant to consider the potential environmental effects from its construction of antenna facilities or structures, and disclose those effects in an environmental assessment (EA) which is filed with the Commission for our review.

Section 1.1307 is divided into four parts:

  1. 1.1307(a): Lists eight areas or situations which are considered environmentally sensitive and require preparation of an EA prior to construction.

  2. 1.1307(b): Requires an EA if the antenna transmitter would cause exposure of workers or the general public to levels of radiofrequency (RF) radiation in excess of certain guidelines.

  3. 1.1307(c): Allows "an interested person" to petition the Commission to require environmental consideration in its decision-making process where such analysis would not otherwise be required by the rules. The petition must be in writing and detail the reasons justifying such an analysis. The Commission then reviews the petition and will either require an EA or it may proceed without an environmental analysis.

  4. 1.1307(d): Allows the Bureau responsible for processing an action which is otherwise categorically excluded, to require environmental consideration of that action upon its own motion. A note to paragraph (d) requires, on an interim basis, that an EA including consideration of effects on migratory birds must be prepared prior to construction for towers greater than 450 feet tall.

Wireless Telecommunications Bureau's EA Review Process

If, after consulting the NEPA rules, a licensee or applicant determines that its proposed service facility project does not fall under any of the listed categories in section 1.1307, section 1.1306 states that the licensee or applicant may proceed with the project without providing any documentation to the Bureau. If, after consulting the NEPA rules, a licensee or applicant determines that its proposed construction does fall under one of the listed categories in section 1.1307(a) or (b) or the note to section 1.1307(d), the licensee or applicant is required to file an EA with its application. It should be noted that certain decisions required by these rules must be made by an appropriately qualified individual. This is particularly true for historic preservation, endangered species, and migratory bird evaluations

FCC Form 601 (Application for Radio Service Authorization) contains question 38, which asks whether the licensee's proposed action may have a significant environmental effect requiring an EA. Prior to providing an answer, the licensee should first determine if the proposed construction may have a sisgnificant environmental impact as defined in section 1.1307. If the licensee answers "NO" to this question, no environmental documentation is required to be filed with the Commission. However, the licensee should maintain all pertinent records and be ready to provide documentation supporting its determination that an EA was not required for the site, in the event that such information is requested by the Bureau pursuant to section 1.1307(d). If the licensee answers “YES” to Question 38, it must attach an EA to the form filing. Questions on how to file an FCC Form 601 should be addressed to Keith Harper, (202) 418-2759.

FCC Form 854 (Application for Antenna Structure Registration) contains Question 49, asking the applicant to certify that an application would not have a significant effect on the environment, and Question 50, asking the applicant to provide the basis for making that certification. The applicant must answer “YES” to Question 49 in order to complete the application. Prior to providing an answer, the applicant should first determine if the proposed construction may have a significant environmental impact as defined in section 1.1307. If an EA is not necessary, the applicant would answer Question 50 by selecting “3,” that notification is completed, that the Commission does not require an EA, and that the construction is categorically excluded. If an EA is necessary, the applicant would answer Question 50 by selecting “4,” indicating the Commission has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), once the applicant has received a FONSI. Questions on how to file an FCC Form 854 should be addressed to the FCC's Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).

If a proposed construction requires filing of both Form 601 and Form 854, the environmental review process must be completed with Form 854. An EA may be filed with Form 601 only for a facility constructed by a licensee that does not require antenna structure registration.

The Bureau's review of EAs consists of the following stages:

  1. A. Initial Review (Form 601): When an EA is received by the Bureau attached to Form 601, the appropriate licensing division initially reviews the complete filing to determine whether the proposed antenna facility complies with any AM station interference coordination or other engineering requirements, or any other non-environmental concerns.

    B. Part I Filing (Form 854): The applicant submits a partially completed Form 854 with an EA and a requested date for national notice. Unless the proposed construction has previously completed local and national notice without an EA, the applicant must provide local notice on or before the national notice date.

  2. A. Acceptance Public Notice Form 601): The licensing office then places the filing on the Commission's Public Notice (PN) for thirty days, indicating that the application was accepted for filing as a "major environmental action." The PN indicates the licensee's name, call sign, the market, FCC file number, the date on which the application was received, and the specific section 1.1307 category invoking the need for an EA.

    B. Web-Based National Notice (Form 854): The application is placed on National Notice on the Commission’s web page for 30 days beginning on the date the applicant selected.

  3. Review: The EA is then reviewed by the Bureau's Spectrum and Competition Policy Division, along with any comments, petitions or opposition filed against the EA during the 30-day notice period.

  4. Finding of No Significant Impact: If, after consulting with all relevant expert federal and state agencies, the Spectrum and Competition Policy Division determines that the proposed project will not have a significant impact upon the environment, it will issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). In the case of an EA attached to Form 601, the licensing division then notifies the licensee that the application has been granted and issues a Public Notice announcing the grant of the application. In the case of an EA attached to Form 854, the applicant may then complete Part II of the application, after which the application may be granted.

  5. Finding Of Impact: If, after consulting with all appropriate agencies, the Spectrum and Competition Policy Division determines that the proposed project will have a significant impact upon the environment, it informs the licensee or applicant of this finding. Pursuant to section 1.1308(c) of the Commission Rules, the licensee or applicant is afforded an opportunity to amend its proposal to reduce, minimize, or eliminate environmental problems. If the amended application resolves the negative environmental impact, the Division issues a FONSI and the application either is granted (Form 601) or may be completed (Form 854). If the amended application does not eliminate the environmental problem, the Division will either recommend the denial of the application or will work with the licensee or applicant to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). Should the Bureau decide to proceed with the action, sections 1.1314, 1.1315 and 1.1317 require a notice of intent that an EISs will be prepared, then that draft and final EISs be prepared and announced in the Federal Register.

Last reviewed/updated on 2/14/2013.