The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) define a categorical exclusions as "a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment... and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required" (40 CFR § 1508.4).
CEQ regulations encourage the use of categorical exclusions to reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays. A categorical exclusion is a form of NEPA compliance; it is not an exemption from NEPA, but an exemption from requirements to prepare an EIS. Agency procedures must, however, consider “extraordinary circumstances” in which case a normally excluded action may have a significant effect and require preparation of an EA or EIS.
The Department of the Interior has established categorical exclusions at (43 CFR § 46.210). In addition, BOEM and BSEE have bureau-specific categorical exclusions. The existing bureau categorical exclusions were established in the 1980s and are listed in the Departmental Manual (516 DM 15.4). Before applying any categorical exclusion, BOEM and BSEE consider the Departmental extraordinary circumstances (43 CFR § 46.215) when conducting a review of extraordinary circumstances.
BOEM-BSEE Comprehensive Review of Categorical Exclusions for Outer Continental Shelf Decisions
Following the release of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Report, (August 16, 2010), regarding the Minerals Management Service's (MMS) NEPA policies, practices, and procedures as they relate to OCS oil and gas exploration and development, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) (formerly MMS; now BOEM and BSEE) former Director Michael R. Bromwich announced that the bureau would limit its use of categorical exclusions for offshore oil and gas development, while it undertook a comprehensive review of its NEPA process and the use of categorical exclusions for OCS decisions.
On October 8, 2010, BOEMRE published a Notice of Intent (NOI) to conduct a review of its categorical exclusions for OCS decisions [75 FR 62418]. The bureau received 21 letters within the 30-day comment period. In addition, one comment was received multiple times in the form of 3,264 individual electronic letters. You may review all of the comments received at http://www.regulations.gov by searching Docket ID BOEM–2010–0036.
On November 23, 2010, CEQ published final guidance for establishing, applying and revising categorical exclusions under NEPA [75 FR 75628], which encouraged agencies to pursue opportunities for public involvement beyond publication of the proposed amendments in the Federal Register, especially in cases where there is likely to be significant public interest and additional outreach would facilitate public input.