[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 125 (Monday, June 30, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 36726-36728]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-15270]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD124


National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Council-
Initiated Fishery Management Actions Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of availability of draft revised and updated National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures for Magnuson-Stevens Act 
fishery management actions; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The purpose of this notice is to notify the public that on 
February 19, 2013, NMFS issued an internal policy pertaining to 
complying with NEPA in the context of Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) 
fishery management actions. This policy, entitled ``National 
Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Council-Initiated Fishery 
Management Actions under the Magnuson-Stevens Act'' (the policy) 
clarifies roles and responsibilities of NMFS and the Regional Fishery 
Management Councils (Council or FMCs), explains timing and procedural 
linkages, provides guidance on documentation needs, and fosters 
partnerships and cooperation between NMFS and FMCs on NEPA compliance.
    NMFS consulted with the Councils and with the Council on 
Environmental Quality (CEQ) on proposed revisions to the 2013 NMFS NEPA 
policy directive, and based on those consultations NMFS now proposes to 
use this policy as a basis for issuing revised and updated NEPA 
procedures for MSA actions in the form of a line-office supplement to 
NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6.

DATES: NMFS will accept written comments on the draft revised NEPA 
procedures until September 29, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2014-0024, by any of the following methods:
    Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0024, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
    Mail: Submit written comments to Steve Leathery, NMFS NEPA

[[Page 36727]]

Coordinator, Room 10828, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring MD 
21755.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Leathery, 301-427-8014.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The 2007 Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization 
Act (MSRA) required NMFS to ``revise and update'' agency procedures to 
comply with NEPA for fisheries management actions. In developing a 
proposed approach, NMFS conducted extensive public outreach which 
included the following:
     Consulted with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) 
and the Councils.
     Posted Trigger Questions, developed by NMFS, and a 
Strawman proposal, developed by the Council Coordination Committee 
(CCC), for 60-day public comment.
     NMFS made presentations at meetings of all eight FMCs on 
Trigger Questions and Strawman during the 60-day period; NMFS received 
over 1600 comments.
     NMFS published proposed rule May 2008 with a 90-day 
comment period; conducted 3 NMFS-sponsored public hearings and a public 
workshop; conducted presentations at meetings of all eight FMCs; and 
received over 150,000 public comments.
    NMFS's initial approach was to propose a rule creating new 
regulatory requirements aligning the decision-making processes of the 
Councils and NMFS under the MSA with the analytical and procedural 
requirements of NEPA. The proposed rule would have required Council 
consideration of draft NEPA documents prior to recommending fishery 
management measures, and NMFS consideration of a final NEPA document 
during Secretarial review of the measures. These comment periods could 
be less than 45 days each in limited circumstances, but in no case 
could the combined total of days be less than 45, which is the minimum 
comment period established by CEQ's regulations for EISs. The proposed 
rule would have included regulatory provisions pertaining to inadequate 
and incomplete information, a new categorical exclusion for exempted 
fishing permits, and it would have changed the name of the EIS-level 
NEPA compliance document for fisheries management to reflect the 
integration of fisheries management and environmental considerations. 
It also would have established a new tiering mechanism modeled on 
fishery management plan (FMP) ``frameworks.''
    NMFS published the proposed rule on May 14, 2008, and provided for 
a 90-day public comment period. During the public comment period, NMFS 
delivered presentations at meetings of all eight Councils and conducted 
three NMFS-sponsored public listening sessions: one in Washington, DC 
metro area, one in St. Petersburg, FL, and one in Seattle, WA. In 
addition, NMFS, Council representatives, and CEQ held an interactive 
public workshop in the Washington, DC area. By the close of the public 
comment period, NMFS had received over 150,000 comment letters, many of 
which were form letters urging NMFS to withdraw the proposed rule and 
start over.
    NMFS subsequently determined that it would be more appropriate to 
revise and update internal guidance rather than to create new 
regulatory requirements. On February 19, 2013, NMFS issued a policy 
titled ``National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Council-
Initiated Fishery Management Actions under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.'' 
This policy clarifies roles and responsibilities of NMFS and the 
Councils, explains timing and procedural linkages, provides guidance on 
documentation needs, and fosters partnerships and cooperation between 
NMFS and FMCs on NEPA compliance. Issuance of this policy satisfied the 
requirements of section 304(i) of the MSA.
    After issuing the 2013 Policy Directive, NMFS consulted with the 
Council Coordination Committee (CCC) at its public meeting in May 2013, 
and also had follow-up dialog with a subcommittee the CCC established 
to represent the CCC on these matters. Additionally, NMFS consulted 
with CEQ. Based on those consultations, NMFS is now proposing to use 
this policy as a basis for a line-office supplement to NAO 216-6, and 
is publishing the draft revised and updated NEPA procedures for MSA 
actions to solicit public comment.
    NMFS anticipates further improvements to the NEPA process at the 
NOAA level as a result of ongoing efforts to update NAO 216-6. NMFS 
will work to ensure consistency between any future NOAA-level NEPA 
policy and procedures and these revised and updated MSA NEPA 
procedures.
    Key features of the draft revised and updated NEPA procedures 
include:
     Roles and Responsibilities: The draft procedures set forth 
the statutory roles and responsibilities for NMFS and the Councils as 
dictated by NEPA and the MSA. While providing clarity on ultimate 
responsibilities, they encourage collaboration and early integration of 
processes. For Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS), NMFS retains 
responsibility over all aspects of compliance.
     Timing: The draft procedures encourage completing as much 
of the NEPA process as possible at the Council level, while recognizing 
the logistical demands of the fishery management process. The draft 
procedures establish a procedural nexus linking NEPA's requirements 
with MSA's. The nexus highlights the requirement for the Regional 
Administrator to determine a package ``complete'' to initiate MSA 
review; sets forth the timing requirements of the MSA and NEPA, and 
includes risk-based considerations for determining the NEPA schedule.
     Documentation: This section clarifies that the statement 
of purpose and need in the NEPA analysis should be linked to the 
fishery management need the Council is addressing. It also addresses 
the alternatives to be considered and what ``reasonable'' alternatives 
should be, and it provides guidance, derived from CEQ's 40 Most-Asked 
Questions, on defining the ``no action'' alternative in a fishery 
management context. It also specifies that, based on information in the 
NEPA analysis, it may be appropriate for a ROD to go beyond the 
question of approving or disapproving the recommendation at hand, and 
may include an identification of additional conservation and management 
needs, as appropriate.
     Improvements/Efficiencies: This section includes 
instructions for optional use of broad analyses and tiering, and 
incorporation by reference. It also identifies best practices for early 
collaboration using information technology and early communication.
     Relationship to other Documents: This section describes 
the policy's relationship to other existing documents and policies 
including the NMFS and Council 1997 Operational Guidelines, the NOAA 
NEPA Administrative Order

[[Page 36728]]

(NAO 216-6), and CEQ's NEPA regulations.
    The draft revised and updated NEPA procedures are intended to:
     Add additional references to NEPA's requirements;
     Add additional description about Council processes;
     Add greater specificity to certain timing requirements; 
and
     Clarify NMFS's intent with regards to usage of NEPA 
documents.
    Both the 2013 Policy Directive, and the draft revised and updated 
NEPA procedures for MSA actions are available online at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/msa2007/nepa.htm. After considering comments, NMFS 
intends to finalize the proposed NEPA procedures for MSA actions and to 
withdraw the proposed May 2008 rule.

    Dated: June 24, 2014.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-15270 Filed 6-27-14; 8:45 am]
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