Criteria for Environmental Significance

When an action proposed by an institution does not appear to fall within any of the categories set out in the UW System Action Type List, it must be evaluated further in consultation with the CPB staff. CPB staff will assist the institution in determining whether the project is one that “significantly affects the quality of the human environment,” and whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. The following criteria for assessing environmental significance will be applied:

  • Irreversibility of Environmental Effects:  If the action creates an effect upon the environment that is essentially irreversible, the need for an EIS is usually greater than if the effect could be reversed.
  • Stimulation of Secondary Effects:  If the action itself has minimal or no direct effects but its nature is to stimulate or induce significant secondary effects, such as major new developments, the need for an EIS is increased.
  • Creating a New Environmental Effect:  If the action involves building a new space as compared to renewing existing space, the need for an EIS is increased.
  • Geographical Importance or Scarcity of the Resources:  Certain resources are unequally distributed across the state. Actions affecting resources that are abundant statewide but locally scarce or important may require an EIS. Actions affecting resources that are locally abundant but scarce statewide or of special importance may also be significant enough to require an EIS.
  • Cumulative Impacts:  When an action sets a precedent for future actions or represents a decision in principle about a future major course of action, the cumulative effects should be considered when determining whether an EIS is required.
  • Public and Citizen Complaints:  The need for an EIS is greater if legitimate citizen concerns indicate a serious controversy to which the agency cannot adequately respond without researching the issue and presenting the results through the EIS process.
  • Reasonable Alternatives:  Both the National and Wisconsin Environmental Policy Acts (NEPA and WEPA) require the consideration of alternatives to the recommended action. Consideration should include alternatives that might not be within agency jurisdiction. Where such alternatives will result in substantial utilization of resources, an EIS should be prepared.
  • Disruption of Program Development or Inconsistency with Long-Range Plans or Goals:  If the proposed action is in conflict with official agency plans or plans of other governmental agencies, then an EIS may be required.
  • Inconsistency with any National or State Policy Relating to the Environment:  A proposed action that conflicts with established environmental policies should require an EIS.
  • Premature or Irrevocable Foreclosure of Possible Future Options:  Where a proposal limits future courses of action, the need for an EIS is increased.
  • Technological Development:  Agencies that engage in major technological development programs having the potential for environmental impact should anticipate the need for compliance with WEPA. Assessments must be written late enough in the development process to contain meaningful information, but early enough so that this information can practically serve as input in the decision-making process. The assessment should be periodically reconsidered and any assessment or impact statement must be prepared before technological development activities have reached a stage of investment or commitment to implementation likely to determine subsequent development or restrict future viable alternatives.

Initial Screening for Types II and III Actions

The following procedures apply:

  • Where the action is within the “Type III” category, as determined by reference to the UW System action type list, the institution will maintain the capability of responding to queries as to the reasons it believes that an environmental impact statement is unnecessary. UWSA will maintain a list of all Type III actions to monitor compliance with the Type Action list and institutional activities.
  • For actions in the “Type II” category, a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), containing a succinct, comprehensive assessment of the proposal and a preliminary recommendation of the need for an environmental impact statement, shall be prepared. In the case for new buildings or building additions, a detailed EIA should be completed to fully examine the need to complete a full EIS. Refer to the EIA Services Request template.
  • Under Wis. Stat. §1.11(2)(e) the UW has an obligation to study, develop and describe appropriate alternatives to recommend courses of action in any proposal that involves unresolved conflicts concerning the alternative uses of available resources. In accordance with this requirement, when it is determined that there are unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources in a proposed Type II or Type III action, the UW System will study, develop and thoroughly describe appropriate alternatives, including the “no action” alternative. This study will be in writing. If the proposed action is a Type II action, the EIA will be deemed to satisfy this requirement.
  • The institutions shall maintain updated mailing lists of individuals, organizations and agencies that have requested notification of environmental assessments.
  • For purposes of this requirement, a proposed action involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources when:
    • The proposed action may reasonably be expected to materially use or affect a resource, temporarily or permanently; and
    • The resource is reasonably suited to one or more other uses; and
    • There is a discernible conflict, competition, difference or incompatibility between the use to be made of the resource by the proposed action and another use, including the present use, to which the resource is reasonably suited; and
    • The conflict, competition, difference or incompatibility between the proposed action’s use and the other uses to which the resource is reasonably suited cannot be avoided or resolved if the proposed action is implemented.
  • For Type I actions, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) must be prepared, and the steps of the environmental review process must be followed.

Generic and Programmatic Actions

In proceeding with the initial screening of a particular action, institutions should be aware that there may be circumstances in which “generic” or “programmatic” impact statements, treating a group or series of actions, may be appropriate.

  • A “generic” impact statement is suitable to cover actions or portions of actions that are repetitive in specific cases. Only those impacts that are common to all of the generic actions should be addressed. With respect to Type I actions a generic EIS is possible but unlikely. A Type I action is usually a major specific action, or a program or policy which can be dealt with in a programmatic EIS. A generic EIS will be most commonly used for Type II actions.
  • A “programmatic” EIS is prepared on a policy or program decision that will affect the long-term development of subsequent specific actions. With respect to Type I actions, a programmatic EIS is appropriate whenever agency programs or policy decisions are categorized as Type I. An entire program may be classed as a Type II action and, if deemed necessary in the environmental impact assessment, be treated with a programmatic EIS.
  • Specific actions that are part of a generic or programmatic impact statement must be measured against the generic or programmatic statement. A complete environmental impact statement on a single action within the generic or programmatic statement may not be necessary.
  • Generic and programmatic impact statements may be amended as new information becomes available. The review process for such changes should follow the guidelines for amendments to impact statements, set forth below.
  • The designated campus officer for research/demonstration will review the UW System action type list to determine which actions might be appropriately treated as generic or programmatic. The officer will advise the institution’s WEPA Coordinator of the possibility of developing generic and programmatic impact statements, and will consult with the coordinator as to the kinds of actions that might be appropriate for such treatment.

Interagency Cooperation

There may be occasions when an institution initiates an action that impacts another state agency or agencies. For these situations, a “lead” agency should assume prime responsibility for the conduct of the environmental review process, described below. Only one comprehensive environmental impact statement should be drafted in such instances. The UW System institution involved should consult with CPB staff and the other impacted state agency and agree upon the “lead” agency. When a dispute occurs as to the lead agency designation, the lead agency question shall be resolved so as not to cause delay. The following factors are listed as guidance in determining which agency is most appropriately designated as “lead” agency:

  • Magnitude of agency’s involvement;
  • Project approval/disapproval authority;
  • Expertise concerning the action’s environmental effects;
  • Duration of agency’s involvement and,
  • Sequence of agency’s involvement. The decision can be made by interagency agreement on recurring situations or on a case-by-case basis.

Upon request of the lead agency, any other state agency that has jurisdiction by law should be a cooperating agency. In addition, any other state agency that has special expertise with respect to any environmental issue, which should be addressed in the statement, may be a cooperating agency upon request of the lead agency. When acting as the lead agency, the institution should:

  • Request the participation of each cooperating agency in the WEPA process at the earliest possible time;
  • To the maximum extent possible consistent with its responsibility as lead agency, use the environmental analysis and proposals of cooperating agencies; and
  • Meet with a cooperating agency at the latter’s request.

When acting as the cooperating agency the institution should:

  • Participate in the WEPA process as the earliest possible time;
  • Assume, on request of the “lead” agency, responsibility for developing information and preparing environmental analyses including portions of the environmental impact statement in which the cooperating agency has special expertise; and
  • Make available staff support at the lead agency’s request to enhance the latter’s interdisciplinary capability.

A cooperating agency should contribute funding based on an equitable pro-rated allocation as determined by the lead agency.