During the early stages of developing the environmental document, Caltrans and TCA will develop a coordination plan, which will document the lead agencies’ structured interaction with the public and other agencies and inform the public and other agencies of how the coordination will be accomplished. The coordination plan will outline (1) how the lead agencies have divided the responsibilities for compliance with the various aspects of the environmental review process, such as the issuance of invitations to participating agencies, and (2) how the lead agencies will provide the opportunities for input from the public and other agencies in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and policies. The plan will also identify coordination points, such as:
- Notice of intent publication and scoping activities.
- Development of purpose and need.
- Identification of the range of alternatives.
- Collaboration on methodologies.
- Completion of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
- Identification of the preferred alternative and the level of design detail.
- Completion of the final environmental impact statement (FEIS).
- Completion of the record of decision (ROD)
- Completion of permits, licenses, or approvals after the ROD.
The coordination plan will also document the roles each regulatory agency will have throughout the environmental document phase, including which agency is considered a cooperating agency or a participating agency. A cooperating agency is any federal agency, other than a lead agency, that has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved in a proposed project or project alternative. A state or local agency of similar qualifications, or a Native American tribe when the effects are on lands of tribal interest, can also become a cooperating agency by agreement with the lead agencies. Participating agencies are those with an interest in the project.
The roles and responsibilities of cooperating and participating agencies are similar, but cooperating agencies have a higher degree of authority, responsibility and involvement in the environmental review process. A distinguishing feature of a cooperating agency is that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR Section 1501.6) permit a cooperating agency to “assume on request of the lead agency responsibility for developing information and preparing environmental analyses, including portions of the environmental impact statement concerning which the cooperating agency has special expertise.” An additional distinction is that, pursuant to 40 CFR 1506.3, “a cooperating agency may adopt without recirculation the environmental impact statement of a lead agency when, after an independent review of the statement, the cooperating agency concludes that its comments and suggestions have been satisfied.” This provision is particularly important to permitting agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who, as cooperating agencies, routinely adopt USDOT environmental documents.