Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement (TESA)
Since implementing the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement (TESA) process, TDOT identified the need to update the TESA Overall Agreement based on experience with projects that have gone through the process, potential changes resulting from the passage of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and a need for other administrative changes. As part of this process, TDOT gathered input from the various Resource and Regulatory Agencies involved in the process.
One outcome of the update process was the development of the TESA Companion Guide which serves as an introduction to and overview of the TESA process. The guide establishes Standard Operating Procedures for concurrence points, and outlines protocols for meetings, field reviews, issue resolution, and ongoing coordination among agencies for the purpose of streamlining the transportation development process and achieving regulatory and environmental compliance.
Agencies reached agreement on the TESA update in January 2014 and it became effective in April 2014 with all participating agency signatures.
The purpose of this Agreement has not changed. It is to establish a coordinated planning and project development process for transportation projects in Tennessee in order to ensure significant agency, Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Rural Planning Organization participation and involvement early and throughout the project development process. Although the agencies that participate in the process to develop and implement transportation projects operate under different and varied regulations, the common responsibility of all agencies is service and accountability to the public.
The TESA outlines a streamlined environmental process that is intended to achieve the timely and efficient identification, evaluation and resolution of environmental and regulatory issues, in order to:
- Provide opportunities for increased environmental protection and improve and enhance the natural, physical and social environment throughout the State;
- Facilitate more realistic and predictable transportation projects, schedules and budgets;
- Allow better use of agency resources by reducing duplication of efforts;
- Provide for early involvement of resource and regulatory agencies and the public in the TDOT project scoping and development processes;
- Provide for joint-agency evaluation and early identification of resource agency interests/issues;
- Provide program continuity and a consistent statewide approach for developing projects;
- Maximize the probability of the project receiving the appropriate permits and approvals from the resource agencies;
- Maximize the quality of the environmental document and process;
- Integrate the information and products developed in the highway and transit planning process into the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process; and,
- Streamline the environmental permitting process while providing early consultation with resource and regulatory agencies for the purpose of problem solving and conflict prevention.
This Agreement establishes “one decision-making process” to identify and address agency jurisdictional interests at four key points, termed concurrence points, during the planning and NEPA process for transportation projects. Concurrence points occur at project milestone activities.
The Agreement establishes four concurrence points in the environmental review and project development process:
- Purpose and Need and Study Area
- Project Alternatives to be Evaluated in the Environmental Document
- Preliminary Draft Environmental Document and Preliminary Mitigation
- Draft Final Mitigation
The Agreement also establishes two new coordination points in the environmental document review and project development process:
- Analysis of Project Alternatives
- Selection of Preferred Alternative
The streamlined environmental review process is based on joint interagency decision-making in regular meetings, with the ultimate goal of gaining concurrence from participating agencies that the information presented is adequate and that the project should be advanced to the next stage of project development. All participating agencies are allowed the opportunity to explain their jurisdiction and interests and to seek an understanding of the interests of others. The decision on whether or not to concur at a certain point should be based on a full understanding of the issues and relative tradeoffs associated with the final decision. Ultimately, though, each individual participating agency must make a decision on whether or not to concur at each concurrence point.
The intent of the concurrence points is to achieve general agreement among agencies before a project moves forward and to preclude the routine revisiting of decisions that have been agreed to earlier in the process.
The process outlined in this Agreement applies to all transportation projects in the State of Tennessee, regardless of project funding source, administered by TDOT that require an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA, or all major transportation projects requiring a Tennessee Environmental Evaluation Report (TEER). In addition, in keeping with the goals of MAP-21 to expedite project delivery, TDOT, in consultation with FHWA (for Federally funded projects) and other signatories, may determine that certain projects requiring a Categorical Exclusion (CE) or Minor TEER may benefit from inclusion in the TESA process.
In addition to TDOT, the following parties are signatories to the Agreement:
- Federal Highway Administration, Tennessee Division (FHWA)
- US Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District (USACE – Nashville District)
- US Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District (USACE – Memphis District)
- US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
- Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)
Conditional signatory agencies include:
- Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office (Tennessee SHPO)
- US Coast Guard (CG)
Conditional signatory agencies are those who have requested that they not receive TESA materials if they have determined they have no jurisdictional interest in a specific project after TDOT's initial agency coordination.
As of April 2014, the updated Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement has been signed by all signatory parties.