When proposed actions are similar to each other or repetitive, federal agencies are encouraged to consider evaluating potential environmental impacts in a programmatic manner. Program-level analysis can establish the boundaries for the analyses, documentation, and decisions of subsequent project-level decisions, thus avoiding repetition and delay. Additionally, programmatic environmental analysis and documentation can also identify best management practices (BMPs) that may be applied for project-specific activities to ensure the avoidance of significant impacts on resources and alleviate the need for subsequent reviews.
This Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) evaluated the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ongoing use of small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS; i.e., drone) activities nationwide to meet DHS mission requirements (Proposed Action). The assessment of environmental impacts is an important and integral part of DHS’s decision-making process. As such, DHS prepared this PEA to assess at a national scale the environmental impacts that may occur as a result of the Proposed Action and establish standard BMPs by which DHS can reduce such impacts. This PEA complies with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA); 42 United States Code [USC] §§ 4321 et seq.); the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (40 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] Parts 1500-1508); and DHS Management Directive 023-01, rev. 01 Implementation of the NEPA. This PEA analyzed sUAS as an asset to DHS mission and operations, such as, research and testing, training, marine mammal protection and monitoring, emergency response, security and surveillance, navigational aid, search and rescue missions, law enforcement, disaster assessment and recovery, and facility and site inspections.
The PEA has been coordinated with appropriate stakeholders, including federal agencies and Native American Tribes, having an interest in the Proposed Action during scoping activities initiated on April 14, 2022. Additionally, a Notice of Availability (NOA) was sent to all interested stakeholders on August 11, 2022, including environmental planning, historic preservation, and civil rights and civil liberties contacts that DHS has maintained. Public comments were accepted from August 11, 2022 until October 9, 2022 and are summarized in the PEA.
While DHS has made a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), DHS and its Components have identified best management practices (BMPs) in the PEA that would be applied, as applicable, for project-specific activities to ensure the continued avoidance of significant impacts on resources and alleviate the need for subsequent review. DHS and its Components would adopt these BMPs as standard procedure for its sUAS operations. Should these BMPs not be feasible for future related DHS and Component proposed actions, project-specific tiering of appropriate NEPA documentation would be required. DHS has also prepared an sUAS BMP Implementation Checklist that is attached as an Appendix to the PEA to assist DHS and Component operators with ensuring that they comply with these BMPs during sUAS activities. Elements of this checklist may be updated following ongoing programmatic consultation between DHS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of the informal Section 7 ESA consultation process. If DHS, in coordination with USFWS, identifies additional standard biological BMPs, DHS would update the standard BMPs for sUAS Operations and the sUAS BMP Implementation Checklist to be included as part of the Final Biological Evaluation.