The researchers, the ship operator and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are following federal and state environmental compliance procedures for the proposed research activity. These procedures, with links to the prepared documents and the laws that call for this oversight, are described below.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, NSF prepared a Draft Amended Environmental Assessment (EA) for the upcoming 2015 survey. This document describes the nature of the proposed research and its possible effects on the natural environment. (It incorporates the Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact prepared for the 2014 survey.) NSF posted the 2015 Draft Amended EA on its website December 19, 2014, beginning a public comment period. To accommodate those who wished to comment but were inconvenienced by the intervening holidays, a 37 day public comment period was announced, rather than the typical 30 day comment period. In response to a request received before the close of the comment period, NSF extended the comment period an additional 15 days, to end on February 9, 2015.
NSF also prepared a Consistency Determination (CD) under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) in which NSF explained that the proposed survey is consistent to the maximum extent possible with the enforceable policies of New Jersey’s coastal management plan. NSF submitted its CD to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for its review and concurrence on December 22, 2014. The CZMA provided NJDEP 60 days in which to respond. NJDEP asked for and was granted a 15-day extension that ended March 6, 2015, and on that day NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) received a reply from NJDEP that disagreed with NSF's assessment.
NSF also submitted a CD to the State of New York for its review. In that document, NSF explained that the proposed survey is consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of the State of New York’s coastal management plan. That CD was submitted to New York on January 16, 2015, and, under the CZMA, New York also had 60 days in which to respond.
In accordance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), NSF submitted a formal interagency Section 7 consultation request to NMFS and will consult, as necessary, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the proposed research complies with the ESA.
NSF submitted a request to the Regional Coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office for consultation to ensure the proposed research complies with the Magnuson Stevens Act and does not endanger any Essential Fish Habitat.
For additional information about the environmental compliance processes being followed for the proposed 2015 survey and those followed for the 2014 survey, see the Draft Amended EA, pages 57-59.