4. Nonproject Review

Chapter Contents

4.1. General Guidance for Nonproject Actions
4.2. Contents of a Nonproject EIS


Nonproject actions are governmental actions involving decisions on policies, plans, or programs that contain standards controlling use or modification of the environment, or that will govern a series of connected actions. This includes, but is not limited to, the adoption or amendment of comprehensive plans, transportation plans, ordinances, rules, and regulations [WAC 197-11-704(2)(b)]. Any proposal that meets the definition of a nonproject action must be reviewed under SEPA, unless specifically exempted.

Nonproject review allows agencies to consider the "big picture" by conducting comprehensive analysis, addressing cumulative impacts, possible alternatives, and mitigation measures. This has become increasingly important in recent years for several reasons:
Provides the basis for future project decisions: Environmental analysis at the nonproject stage forms the basis for later project review, providing greater predictability.
Expedites project analysis and decisions: The more detailed and complete the environmental analysis during the nonproject stage, the less review needed during project review. Project review is able to focus on only those environmental issues not adequately addressed during the nonproject stage.

4.1 General Guidance for Nonproject Actions

The procedural requirements for SEPA review of a nonproject proposal are basically the same as a project proposal. Environmental review starts as early in the process as possible when there is sufficient information to analyze the probable environmental impacts of the proposal. The first step is usually to complete an environmental checklist (including Part D, Supplemental Sheet for Nonproject Activities), unless the lead agency has already determined that an environmental impact statement is needed or SEPA has already been completed.

Review of a nonproject proposal should include a consideration of other existing regulations and plans, and any under development. For example, during development of a critical area ordinance, the agency should consider the relationship to the Clean Water Act, Shoreline Management Act, and similar regulations.

If the nonproject action is a comprehensive plan or similar proposal that will govern future project development, the probable impacts need to be considered of the future development that would be allowed. For example, environmental analysis of a zone designation should analyze the likely impacts of the development allowed within that zone. The more specific the analysis at this point, the less environmental review needed when a project permit application is submitted.

Whenever possible, the proposal should be described in terms of alternative means of accomplishing an objective [WAC 197-11-060(3)(a)]. For example, a statewide plan for use of chemicals to treat aquatic vegetation could be described as a plan to control aquatic vegetation. This would encourage the review of various alternatives for treating vegetation in addition to the use of chemicals. This might include a review of biological or mechanical methods, or a combination of the various methods.

Environmental review of nonproject actions by GMA cities and counties have additional specific guidance and requirements, discussed in section 7.

4.2 Contents of a Nonproject EIS

In most instances, the development of a nonproject action (i.e. plan or policy) involves an analysis of alternatives and the potential consequences of future project actions. Since an EIS also evaluates alternatives and probable impacts, it should be possible to combine the EIS with the analysis of the nonproject action and issue an integrated document.

Agencies have great flexibility in formatting a nonproject EIS and are encouraged to combine the EIS with the planning document. The EIS should discuss impacts and alternatives with the level of detail appropriate to the scope of the nonproject proposal. Although the format is flexible, the EIS must include a cover letter or memo, a fact sheet, a table of contents, and a summary.

In preparing a nonproject EIS the following areas should be considered for inclusion:

Background and Objectives

  • Background of the issue, including the purpose and need for action.
  • Legislative authority or mandate.
  • Statement of the primary objective.
  • Relationship to ongoing and future regulatory and planning efforts.

Existing Situation

  • Description of the existing situation—current regulations, existing means of achieving the objective, current institutional structure.

Proposal and Alternatives

  • Description of the proposed regulation, policy, plan, etc.
  • Alternatives to the proposal which could reasonably meet the primary objective.

Environmental Impacts

  • Summary of the adverse environmental impacts relative to other policies. For example, the consequences of the transportation plan on housing policy or plans.
  • Summary of environmental impacts from the proposal and alternatives.

Section 3 on the Environmental Impact Statement Process provides additional relevant information on the EIS process, including scoping, and encouraging public participation.

Tip: When preparing a nonproject environmental document, the lead agency should think about the use of the document during the environmental review of future project proposals. Will the information provide a solid foundation for additional analysis at the project phase? Will the information be easy to locate and cross reference in later environmental documents?


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