Environmental Review

What is SEPA?

North Carolina's State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), G.S. 113A, Article 1, was originally conceived in 1971 and generally coincides with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  When applicable, it requires State agencies to review, report, and disclose most environmental impacts for a proposed action.

How does Session Law 2015-90 affect the SEPA review process?

On June 19, 2015, Session Law 2015-90 was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory.  The passage significantly overhauled the criteria under which a SEPA review of a proposed project is evaluated.  Prior to the passage of SL 2015-90, if a proposed project involved any amount of public funds, involved the use of public lands, or had significant environmental impacts as determined by the minimum criteria, then a SEPA review was necessary.

With the passage of SL 2015-90, two key criteria must now be considered to determine if a proposed action may require a SEPA review.  The first is the funding source.  If a proposed action involves more than $10,000,000 of funds provided by the State of North Carolina for a single project or action or related group of projects or actions, a SEPA review may be necessary.  This is a change from the previous requirement which included any public funds (i.e. city, county, bonds, etc.).

The second involves direct impacts resulting from the proposed project.  If the proposed action will result in substantial, permanent changes to the natural cover or topography greater than or equal to ten acres of public lands, a SEPA review may be required.  This is a change from previous requirements that required a SEPA review for impacts to any type or amount of public lands.

Session Law 2015-90 only affects when a SEPA review may be necessary; it does not affect the way a SEPA review is conducted.

Does my project require SEPA Review?

In order to determine if a SEPA review is required under SL 2015-90, the Division of Water Resources will begin by considering the funding source(s) and permanent impacts against the requirements described above.

If a proposed action is receiving state funds from another Agency or Division, please contact it first and see if that Agency or Division should act as the lead Agency.  If federal funds are being utilized, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) may apply.

The DEQ SEPA Page provides further general information about the applicability of SEPA and the environmental review process.

Should you need guidance in determining if a SEPA review is required by the Division of Water Resources or have further questions regarding the implementation of SL 2015-90, please contact David Wainwright at David.Wainwright@ncdenr.gov or 919-807-6442.

What is Scoping?

Prior to writing an initial draft SEPA document, it may be helpful to solicit preliminary comments from responsible agencies and/or the public.  This "scoping" process can be an effective method to define potential project impacts and to determine additional material that should be included in the document.  Scoping may reduce the likelihood that a document will contain inadequate or erroneous information, analysis or mitigation measures which may delay final EA or EIS approval, or delay issuance of a required permit or certification.

The scoping document should include a 1-2 page summary of a proposed project and include topographic map(s) of the project site and/or service area displaying the project's footprint.  The scoping process will add an additional 30-working days to the overall project review process but may save time later in the process by allowing the applicant to provide a more complete project document.

With the implementation of SL 2015-90, projects that previously may have required SEPA review may no longer require it.  However, in order to facilitate the permitting process, applicants are strongly encouraged to scope potential projects.  The DWR cannot underscore the importance of making the initial contact with environmental agencies if no SEPA review is required.  The permitting process may be stalled or stopped at the state and/or federal level if agency concerns are not addressed beforehand.  Scoping provides the resource agencies an opportunity to preview the proposed action and provide comments. It also allows for a smoother permitting process.

Content and Process:  Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)

Should a SEPA review be necessary, the DEQ SEPA Page provides links to SEPA laws, regulations and environmental document preparation guidance.  It also provides flowcharts and a step-by-step outline of the different steps involved with review of the environmental documents, as well as the DEQ Internal Review Process.

For assistance with Environmental Review projects for which the Division of Water Resources is the lead agency, please contact David Wainwright at David Wainwright@ncdenr.gov or at 919-807-6442.

For assistance with Environmental Review projects for which the Division of Water Resources has provided comment through the State Clearinghouse circulation process, please contact Harold Brady via email or by phone at 919-707-9005.