Virginia Code §10.1-1188 requires state agencies to prepare and submit an environmental impact report (EIR) for each major state project. This manual describes objectives, criteria, and procedures developed by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to ensure the orderly preparation and evaluation of environmental impact reports.
The purpose of environmental review is to identify and evaluate the environmental effects of proposed state facilities, and to guide facility siting and design decisions in order to protect important environmental resources. The analysis needed to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) helps agencies to assess the effects of development proposals, and to consider alternative actions and mitigating measures to avoid or reduce adverse impacts. Review of the EIR provides the DEQ and other state agencies with information that can be used to recommend project modifications, if needed, and to make recommendations to the Secretary of Administration. Preparation of EIRs assists proponent agencies in developing projects which are consistent with existing land-use policies including local plans and ordinances. Virginia Code § 10.1-1190 provides that the State Comptroller shall not authorize payments of funds for major state projects unless the request is accompanied by written approval of the Governor after his consideration of the comments by the DEQ on the environmental impact of the facility. Each new Governor typically delegates the authority to approve projects to the Secretary of Administration by Executive Order. The Secretary of Administration must then weigh the benefits and environmental costs of the project before releasing funds for that project. The DEQ's recommendations to the Secretary of Administration are advisory. However, the Secretary may incorporate them as conditions of project approval.
In some instances, environmental review will help to avoid unforeseen construction costs to overcome environmental hazards. In other cases, environmental review will help agencies avoid adverse impacts on the natural resources of the Commonwealth. In all cases, environmental review helps agencies provide facilities that are consistent with state environmental policies, such as the Commonwealth's pollution prevention policy, and are models for other development.
Responsibilities of Proponent Agencies
The environmental impact reporting and review procedure should be a part of the planning, siting, and design procedure for major state projects. When it is scheduled as part of the process, the preparation of the EIR can be accomplished efficiently, and in a time frame that does not impede implementation of projects. Agencies that are considering major project initiatives are encouraged to contact DEQ - Office of Environmental Impact Review (DEQ-OEIR) early in order to enlist DEQ's assistance in identifying important environmental issues and determine the level of environmental analysis necessary to satisfy the requirements of §10.1-1188.
In order to ensure consistent quality in conducting its reviews, DEQ needs certain information, as discussed in the following chapters. Where insufficient information is provided for assessment of the impacts of the proposed project on the environment and natural resources, DEQ will return the EIR document to the proponent agency. If additional information is not provided, DEQ may limit its comments to those issues that have been presented adequately, while identifying deficiencies in the environmental report. Either action may result in delays in initiating a project. DEQ therefore urges each proponent of a project subject to the EIR law to supply complete information. DEQ also encourages proponent agencies to contact local planning and transportation agencies early in the planning phase for major state projects to ensure that local plans and ordinances are adequately considered.
The information requirements and procedures for review are simple. DEQ strives to ensure that the procedure remains a vehicle for efficient and effective environmental review. In all cases, DEQ strives to provide a flexible process that can be adapted to unusual circumstances. Agencies with special needs are encouraged to contact DEQ early in their project planning to discuss problems in meeting their mandates or questions about their responsibilities.
Responsibilities of Reviewing Agencies
DEQ must review and comment on an EIR within 60 days. In conducting its reviews, DEQ-OEIR relies heavily on the comments and guidance of other divisions within DEQ as well as other agencies. In reviewing environmental impact reports, state agencies should determine whether any of their proprietary, management, policy development, or regulatory responsibilities is likely to affect or be affected by the project under review. The effect should be described in the agency's comments.
DEQ-OEIR relies on other divisions and agencies to provide the basic information for comments and recommendations about a proposed facility. The reviewing agency or entity is expected to bring its expertise to bear on the analysis presented in the EIR. If permitting will be required, agencies should identify criteria or anticipated permit conditions to aid the proponent agency in preparing for permit application review. Reviewing agencies should also recommend application of existing agency or state policies. New policies to deal with the issues raised by the project under review could also evolve from the EIR review process.
Reviewing agencies should provide a rationale for the comments they make in reviewing project EIRs. This rationale may include statutory declarations of policy (in which case a citation is desired), memoranda of agreement or understanding, relevant state policy, or other reasoning which underlies the suggestions. Development of state facilities must incorporate protection measures stipulated in state policies that are more stringent than applicable regulatory requirements. For example, all agencies of the Commonwealth must administer their programs in accordance with the following:
(1) the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement providing “Government by Example,” ensures that all properties owned, managed, or leased by the Commonwealth are developed, redeveloped and used in a manner consistent with the “sound land use” goals and commitments of this agreement;
(2) Virginia's Coastal Zone Management Program (formerly) Virginia's Coastal Resources Management Program - state agency activities must be consistent with the goals and priorities of the coastal program established in 1986;
(3) the Commonwealth's wetlands policy - in 1993 the Commonwealth adopted a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands functions and values within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The goal was expanded in 1997 by the Chesapeake Executive Council's Directive 97-2, "Wetlands Protection and Restoration Goal," and reaffirmed in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement; and
(4) the Commonwealth's Pollution Prevention policy - in 1995 the General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution 453 encouraging state agencies to participate in pollution prevention planning.
Capital projects should be coordinated with ongoing pollution prevention planning activities and constructed in accordance with pollution prevention principles.