What is SEPA?
The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) is a statute entitled the North Carolina Environmental Policy Act of 1971 (G.S. 113A 1-13) that declares a state policy which is designed to maintain and protect the state’s environment. The statute requires state agencies to the fullest extent possible to identify significant environmental effects of their actions and to implement measures to minimize negative effects. This Act was enacted in response to the passage of federal legislation in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The SEPA compliance process is administered by the Department of Administration (DOA).
What is the purpose of SEPA?
The purpose of SEPA is to require state agencies to evaluate the potential negative environmental impacts of a proposed project. Environmental documents prepared for SEPA compliance allow state government agencies to make informed decisions about whether and under what the conditions a project with potential adverse impacts should proceed. This is a public process allowing all views to be heard regarding the sufficiency of the impact analysis. SEPA review is not a permitting process, but is intended to help permitting agencies ensure regulatory requirements are met and that impacts are minimized and mitigated as much as possible. The SEPA review should take place in the early stages of project planning.
Who must comply with SEPA?
Every state agency, including the University System, with the responsibility of funding or approving a publicly funded project is responsible for compliance. The state agency is deemed the lead agency. Where more than one state agency is involved, a lead agency must be chosen.
What makes a proposed project subject to SEPA?
Any project meeting all the following “triggers” is subject to SEPA: (1) the project is carried out with public funds and/or uses state land, (2) a project requires a state approval action in order to be implemented, and (3) a project has the potential for an environmental impact.
Which “public funds” are applicable under SEPA?
Public funds include all expenditures in support of a proposed activity by federal, state, local, or quasi-public entities. It does not include funds used solely for processing a license or a permit, or for the provision of technical services.
What is a “state approval action”?
An action includes, but is not limited to licensing, certification, permitting, and the lending of credit, the expenditure of funds and other similar state agency approval action necessary for the project to be undertaken.
How do I determine that a state permit is necessary for a project?
This information can be obtained from Customer Service of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources by calling 1-877-623-6748.
How do I know if a required state permit also requires SEPA compliance?
The permitting agency makes that determination based on the established thresholds (minimum criteria) of the Department and the funding source.
How is a project determined to have a “potential for an environmental impact”?
Departments of State Government, including the University System, establish specific criteria, which designate minimum levels of environmental impact for potential projects that they may undertake. Once these lists have been approved, no filing of an environmental document is required for the activities below the minimum thresholds. Also, called “minimum criteria.”
Are all publicly funded and state approved projects subject to SEPA?
No, only those exceeding the minimum criteria thresholds of the state project agency.
Are privately funded activities subject to SEPA?
No, unless a privately funded project involves the use of public (state) lands.
Are there rules for the SEPA compliance process?
Yes, the procedures are found in Chapter 25 of North Carolina Administrative Code (1 NCAC 25), and available at the website.
Does a federally funded project have to meet the requirement of both SEPA and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)?
Under the law, meeting the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act meets the requirement of SEPA. The rules specify that the federal (NEPA) document must be reviewed through the State Clearinghouse process.
When is a local government project subject to SEPA?
A local government project is subject to SEPA compliance when the project must have a state approval action to be undertaken. For example, a municipal water treatment facility permitted by the state. In these cases the state agency “approving” the project is responsible for obtaining SEPA compliance prior to project approval unless the facility falls below the minimum criteria thresholds of the state agency. The state agency may request the information from the local government necessary to meet compliance requirements.
What is the role of the Department of Administration in the SEPA process?
G.S.113A-11 specifies that the Department of Administration (DOA) shall adopt rules to implement SEPA. These rules are found in the North Carolina Administrative Code in NCAC Chapter 25. The Department maintains a Clearinghouse to which documents prepared pursuant to SEPA are submitted. The State Clearinghouse in the Department of Administration is responsible for daily implementation and administration of the SEPA review process. The Clearinghouse forwards SEPA documents for review and comment to state/local agencies having expertise in environmental matters and/or whose jurisdiction may be impacted by the project. Notification of the availability of these documents is published in the North Carolina Environmental Bulletin. This Bulletin is updated daily and is available on the Internet. Agencies and interested citizens must return any comments to the Clearinghouse by the end of the project review period. Based on a consideration of the comments received, the Department of Administration recommends to the state project agency whether any further action is needed to comply with SEPA. If no further action is needed, DOA will notify the project agency that requirements of SEPA have been met.
What is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
The National Environmental Policy Act directs federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of their actions. All federal agencies are to prepare environmental impact documents that assess the potential negative impacts of proposed federal development activities. Like SEPA, Federal agencies are to provide state/local officials and the public the opportunity to comment on their assessment of the potential impacts of their actions. Federal agencies funding or otherwise conducting development activities in North Carolina are encouraged by regulation to use the State Clearinghouse as a means to notify appropriate agencies and the public of their action. The NEPA documents submitted to the State Clearinghouse are listed in the North Carolina Environmental Bulletin and typically allow a 30-45 day review period.
Who reviews and comments on SEPA/NEPA projects?
State, local agencies and any interested citizen or citizen organization. Federal agencies may also review documents of interest to them.
How long does the review process last?
Typically 30-45 days depending on the type of environmental document. A review process calendar and submission schedule for SEPA documents is located in the North Carolina Environmental Bulletin at this website.
How does the public comment on a SEPA project?
The State Clearinghouse provides a listing of documents available for review in the North Carolina Environmental Bulletin. The Bulletin will give a summary for the document under review and the location of reading copies. Any citizen can send comments to the Clearinghouse by the review close date indicated in the Bulletin. All citizen comments are considered. The Bulletin is located at http://www.doa.state.nc.us/clearing/ebulletin.aspx.
Is the SEPA review process the place to file an objection to a project?
No, the purpose of the SEPA review is to determine if the environmental document to be used by the decision-makers adequately discusses the potential impacts of the proposed project. It is the document under scrutiny not the project.