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National Marine Fisheries Service plans new environmental compliance policy

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New procedures are being proposed to deal with environmental regulations for fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is announcing in the Federal Register of Monday, June 30, 2014 that it is taking public comments on a draft of procedures for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Last year, NMFS issued a new policy for NEPA compliance under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

NMFS is using the policy as the basis for the proposal. The rules spell out the responsibilities of NMFS and regional fishery management councils regarding deadlines, procedures, documentation and working together when complying with NEPA. In writing the policy, NMFS consulted with the regional councils and the Council on Environmental Quality.

NMFS is taking comments until Sept. 29, 2014. Refer to NOAA-NMFS-2014-0024. To file electronically, go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0024 and click on ``Comment Now!'' Or send written remarks to Steve Leathery, NMFS NEPA coordinator, Room 10828, 1315 East-West Hwy., Silver Spring MD 21755. If you have any questions, contact Leathery at (301) 427-8014.

NMFS originally proposed a rule in 2008 to comply with the 2007 reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens. It conducted public forums and received more than 150,000 comments in a 90-day public comment period. NMFS subsequently decided that rather than write new rules, it would revise internal guidance. The proposed guidance spells out who is responsible for what. With regard to Atlantic Highly Migratory Species, NMFS would retain all authority over compliance.

Otherwise, the guidance calls for doing as much as possible at the regional council level. It spells out alternatives when determining courses of action. It provides guidance on timing. And it encourages collaboration from early stages of action. The guidance spells out what needs to be done when documenting policy under NEPA.

When it finalizes the guidance, NMFS intends to formally withdraw the proposed 2008 rule.

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