[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 8 (Monday, January 13, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 2102-2103]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-00324]

[[Page 2102]]



39 CFR Part 775

National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Procedures

AGENCY: Postal Service.

ACTION: Interim final rule with request for comments.


SUMMARY: The Postal Service (USPS) TM is publishing this 
interim final rule with request for comments to amend a categorical 
exclusion, which is currently in the Postal Service's National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures. This amendment 
will make the categorical exclusion (CATEX) more consistent with the 
intended scope of covered activities and with those CATEXs used by 
other Federal entities for property disposals.

DATES: Effective date: January 13, 2014.
    Comment date: Submit comments on or before February 12, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Deliver written comments by email to USPSFAC@usps.gov, with 
the subject heading ``CATEX Rulemaking,'' or by mail to Angie Mitchell, 
U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW., Room 6611, Washington, DC 
20260. You may inspect and photocopy all written comments at the USPS 
Headquarters Library, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW., 11th Floor North, 
Washington, DC, by appointment only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 
p.m., Monday through Friday by calling 202-268-2906 in advance. Faxed 
comments will not be accepted.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Charlotte Parrish, Environmental 
Specialist, at charlotte.parrish@usps.gov or 201-714-7216, or Matthew 
Raeburn, Environmental Counsel, at matthew.d.raeburn@usps.gov or 202-

    The Postal Service is publishing this interim final rule with 
request for comments to amend a categorical exclusion under the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Amending this categorical 
exclusion (CATEX) is consistent with NEPA and the Council on 
Environmental Quality's (CEQ's) regulations. This amendment focuses the 
CATEX more clearly on activities that, absent extraordinary 
circumstances, do not normally have the potential for individual or 
cumulative significant impacts on the quality of the human environment. 
The amendment also makes the CATEX more consistent with analogous 
CATEXs used by the General Services Administration (GSA) and other 
Federal entities. The Postal Service has determined that the activities 
included in this category--i.e., property disposals undertaken in the 
normal course of the Postal Service's business--do not normally, absent 
extraordinary circumstances, individually or cumulatively create the 
potential for significant effects on the human environment. The updated 
CATEX is necessary to ensure greater clarity and consistency when the 
CATEX is used because of the increasing regularity of property 
disposals by the Postal Service. There have also been changes to the 
Postal Service's business and infrastructure since its last CATEX 
revisions in 1997. This amendment maintains the Postal Service's 
compliance with NEPA while greatly reducing the Postal Service's 
administrative burden, and the amendment advances the ongoing efforts 
to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of timely environmental 
review processes.
    NEPA applies to Federal actions and requires an Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) for major actions significantly affecting the 
quality of the human environment (42 U.S.C. 4332(C)). NEPA established 
CEQ, whose regulations at 40 CFR parts 1500-1508 implement NEPA across 
the Executive Branch. CEQ's regulations require Federal agencies to 
adopt their own implementing procedures to supplement CEQ's regulations 
and to establish and use CATEXs to define categories of actions that do 
not normally, absent extraordinary circumstances, have the potential 
for individual or cumulative significant impacts on the human 
environment and, thus, do not necessitate the preparation of an EIS or 
an environmental assessment (EA) (40 CFR 1507.3(b)(2)(ii), 1508.4).
    CEQ also requires that CATEXs be used to reduce paperwork and delay 
(40 CFR 1500.4(p), 1500.5(k)). In its guidance on ``Establishing, 
Applying, and Revising Categorical Exclusions under the National 
Environmental Policy Act'' (75 FR 75628, February 18, 2010), CEQ 
recommends that agencies periodically review their CATEXs and benchmark 
them against those of other agencies. An agency can substantiate its 
own CATEX by comparing another agency's experience promulgating and 
applying a comparable CATEX. CEQ also encourages agencies to establish 
new CATEXs and to revise existing CATEXs to eliminate unnecessary 
paperwork and delay for categories of actions that, absent 
extraordinary circumstances, do not have significant environmental 
effects. This approach leaves more resources available to assess, 
either in an EA or EIS, those proposed Federal actions that are 
actually likely to have the potential to cause significant 
environmental effects.
    The Postal Service, which is an independent establishment of the 
executive branch rather than a Federal agency (39 U.S.C. 201), has its 
own NEPA regulations at 39 CFR part 775. Those regulations include 
several CATEXs for categories of actions that the Postal Service has 
determined do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for 
significant effects on the human environment (39 CFR 775.6). The Postal 
Service last revised its CATEXs through a rulemaking that became 
effective on October 1, 1997 (63 FR 45720). One of the CATEXs 
promulgated in that rulemaking applied to the ``[a]cquisition and 
disposal through sale, lease, transfer or exchange of real property 
that does not involve an increase in volumes, concentrations, or 
discharge rates of wastes, air emissions, or water effluents, and that 
under reasonably foreseeable uses, have generally similar environmental 
impacts as compared to those before the acquisition or disposal'' (39 
CFR 775.6(e)(8)).
    In the 16 years since, the Postal Service became aware of 
refinements in similar CATEXs in other Federal agency regulations. In 
particular, the Postal Service examined a similar CATEX for disposals 
finalized in 2000 by the General Services Administration (GSA) (65 FR 
69558). GSA's disposal CATEX is included in that agency's NEPA Desk 
Guide, which the Environmental Protection Agency called ``a good model 
for other agencies'' (65 FR 69558). Indeed, in July 2013, the U.S. 
Coast Guard (USCG) used GSA's disposal CATEX as a basis for USCG's own 
CATEX (78 FR 44140). Whereas the Postal Service's disposal CATEX at 39 
CFR 775.6(e)(8)--prior to this interim final rule--could have been read 
to compare the environmental impact of current and reasonably 
foreseeable uses only on the property being disposed of, the GSA's and 
USCG's CATEXs more broadly and realistically compare the reasonably 
anticipated and reasonably foreseeable uses on the disposal property to 
other property uses in the surrounding area. In other words, those 
CATEXs take into account the environmental effects of the agencies' 
disposals in the context of the surrounding neighborhoods. Both GSA and 
USCG have determined that a property disposal that results in a use or 
uses similar to those on surrounding properties does not, when 
undertaken in

[[Page 2103]]

the normal course of business, give rise to the potential for 
significant impacts and therefor does not necessitate the preparation 
of an EA (or an EIS).
    The frequency of property disposals by the Postal Service has 
increased dramatically in recent years. For example, the total number 
of Postal Service facilities fell from 34,175 in 2008 to 32,604 in 2012 
(U.S. Postal Service 2012 Sustainability Report (2013)). The Postal 
Service anticipates that the frequency of property disposals will 
persist or increase in the foreseeable future. As a result, the Postal 
Service would reduce paperwork and delay by updating its CATEX to 
clarify that an EA is not required for the overwhelming majority of its 
normal course of business property disposals. That determination is 
based on the Postal Service's experience that such disposals do not 
normally result in significant environmental effects.
    The Postal Service's NEPA procedural safeguards will continue to 
apply to the Postal Service's application of the amended CATEX. 
Specifically, the Postal Service's NEPA regulations require that all 
proposed real property actions, including property disposals, be 
reviewed using a process that includes the completion of a Facilities 
Environmental Checklist (FEC). The FEC allows the Postal Service's 
personnel and consultants to identify and list any potential 
environmental effects of the proposed action. The FEC's signatory 
determines whether the proposed action qualifies for a CATEX under NEPA 
and whether extraordinary circumstances exist that could cause the 
proposed action to have a significant environmental effect that would 
preclude the use of the CATEX.
    If the person completing the FEC concludes that a CATEX applies, 
then a Record of Environmental Consideration (REC)--a formal record 
justifying the use of a CATEX--must be completed and signed by both the 
project manager and a responsible official at the Postal Service. The 
REC's signatories must affirm they have reviewed the applicable NEPA 
guidance and considered the environmental impacts of the proposed 
property action.
    The Postal Service's experience leads it to believe that, as 
demonstrated by the GSA's and USCG's use of their property disposal 
CATEXs, its amended CATEX reflects an appropriate and realistic view 
that such activities undertaken in the normal course of business do not 
individually or cumulatively have significant impacts on the human 
environment. The Postal Service also finds those agencies' experience 
and consideration to be a useful guide. Like the Postal Service, both 
agencies are responsible for the acquisition and disposal of Federal 
property. GSA, which is responsible for the acquisition and disposal of 
most Federal property, has promulgated a property disposal CATEX that 
reflects its seasoned judgment about the precise scope of real property 
acquisition and disposal that lacks significant individual and 
cumulative environmental impact. The Postal Service also notes that 
neither GSA nor USCG received adverse public comments regarding their 
property disposal CATEXs (see 65 FR 69558; 78 FR 44139).
    Although the Postal Service notes minor differences between the 
phrasing of GSA's and USCG's CATEXs, those differences are not 
substantive or otherwise of a nature to change the projected 
environmental consequences of the activities. Because of GSA's 
preeminent experience with the acquisition and disposal of Federal real 
property, the Postal Service believes that it is appropriate to amend 
its own CATEX to match that of the GSA. The Postal Service does not 
believe that this update to a single CATEX, which follows the model of 
Federal agencies' existing CATEXs, should be significant or 
    The Administrative Procedure Act does not apply to this action (5 
U.S.C. 553(a)(2); 39 U.S.C. 410(a)), which is being taken pursuant to 
the Postal Service's general rulemaking authority under 39 U.S.C. 
401(2). Nevertheless, the Postal Service is complying with CEQ 
Regulations and seeking public input when revising this CATEX. The 
Postal Service therefore invites comments on the following revision of 
39 CFR 775.6(e)(8).
    Note that this interim final rule is effective upon its date of 
publication in the Federal Register. The Postal Service will review any 
comments received during the 30-day comment period. Following the 
expiration of the comment period, the Postal Service will publish its 
responses to any adverse comments in a subsequent Federal Register 
notice, together with its determination whether the interim final rule 
will be made permanent without change, or adjusted in response to the 
comments received.

List of Subjects in 39 CFR Part 775

    Environmental impact statements.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, 39 CFR part 775 is amended 
as follows:


1. The authority citation for 39 CFR part 775 continues to read as 

    Authority: 39 U.S.C. 401; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.; 40 CFR 1500.4.

2. In Sec.  775.6, paragraph (e)(8) is revised to read as follows:

Sec.  775.6  Categorical exclusions.

* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (8) Disposal of properties where the size, area, topography, and 
zoning are similar to existing surrounding properties and/or where 
current and reasonable anticipated uses are or would be similar to 
current surrounding uses (e.g., commercial store in a commercial strip, 
warehouse in an urban complex, office building in downtown area, row 
house or vacant lot in an urban area).
* * * * *

Stanley F. Mires,
Attorney, Legal Policy & Legislative Advice.
[FR Doc. 2014-00324 Filed 1-10-14; 8:45 am]