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Last Updated: Thursday, June 23, 2016 11:45 AM

Chapter 5 - Preliminary Environmental Scoping


This chapter briefly discusses the various types of Project Initiation Documents (PIDs) used to program funds for transportation projects.  It then addresses the preliminary environmental scoping documents used to identify the efforts needed to conduct the subsequent environmental studies and prepare the environmental document. The types of programming documents and the timing of the preparation of the preliminary environmental scoping documents differ based on whether the project will be on or off the State Highway System (SHS).  For information regarding formal scoping for EIS projects, please see SER Volume 1, Chapter 6.


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PEAR Decision Tree PDF document (11KB)


No statute or regulation requires the use of a preliminary scoping document to support project programming; however, the FHWA's regulations to implement NEPA require early scoping of a project 23 CFR 771.111.

The Department has entered into two memoranda of agreement regarding the assignment of NEPA and associated responsibilities pursuant to 23 USC 326 and 23 USC 327. Title 23 USC 326 allows any state to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with FHWA to assume responsibility for determining whether a proposed project qualifies as a categorical exclusion (CE) specifically designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary, as well as responsibilities for federal environmental consultation and coordination for those projects.  The approval of CEs is limited to those actions specifically listed or referenced in the CE Assignment MOU between the Department and FHWA.  See the fully executed copy of the CE Assignment MOU for further guidance. For those projects that do not meet the requirements of a CE assignment CE, including environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, the Department has the authority to approve those projects under a separate MOU pursuant to 23 USC 327, NEPA Assignment. For further guidance, see SER Volume 1, Chapters 30 and 38.


Categorical Exclusions for 23 USC 326 CE Assignment and 23 USC 327 NEPA Assignment Responsibilities, Jay Norvell, (October 1, 2012)

Project Initiation Documents and the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report, Kelly C. Dunlap, (July 28, 2011)

Division of Environmental Analysis DEA Memo dated December 27, 2001 (G. Winters)  requires the use of a PEAR for all projects programmed with a Project Study Report – Project Development Support (PSR-PDS). [Note: All policy memos are available from the SER Policy Memos page.]

See DEA's NEPA Assignment web page, SER Volume 1, Chapter 38, NEPA Assignment, and SER Volume 1, Chapter 30 for further guidance on 23 USC 326 CEs.

See SER Volume 1, Chapters 4, 6, 14, 15, 20, 31, 32, 34, 35, 36, Volume 2 and Volume 3.

See the Local Assistance Procedures Manual (LAPM); LAPM Chapter 6, Environmental Procedures

LAPM, Chapter 6, Exhibit 6-B, requires the preparation of a Preliminary Environmental Studies (PES) form for all local agency Federal-aid transportation projects off the State Highway System.


Background: Project Initiation Documents

All proposed transportation project candidates require a Project Initiation Document (PID) that provides the information necessary to program funds for project development activities, the acquisition of rights of way, and construction.  There are a number of different types of PIDs depending on the nature of the project and which elements of project development are being programmed for funding.  Please refer to Chapter 9 of the Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) and SER Volume 1, Chapter 4 for detailed discussions of PIDs.

When a local agency proposes a State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) project off the State Highway, they must prepare a “PSR Equivalent”.  A PSR Equivalent consists of the first two pages of the Field Review and a PES form.  The PES form is located in Exhibit A of Chapter 6, Local Assistance Procedures Manual.  Instructions can be found in Exhibit B.


PEAR Process Flowchart PDF document (12KB)

Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR)

For projects on the State Highway System, a PEAR is required for non-CE STIP projects programmed with a PSR-PDS, and is strongly recommended for projects programmed with a standard PSR, for projects qualifying for a CE with technical studies, and for large, complex State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) projects requiring an environmental document (non-CE). For further information, refer to SER Policy Memo: Project Initiation Documents and the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report, Kelly C. Dunlap (July 28, 2011).

A PEAR is a project-specific scoping document designed to identify potential environmental issues and constraints that will need to be considered, the anticipated level of environmental document, and the resources and schedule needed to complete the environmental analysis phase.  In order to determine the appropriate level of environmental document it will be necessary to make a preliminary determination of whether the project may have a significant effect on the environment.  Formal and informal scoping efforts may be used.  Formal scoping, required if an environmental impact statement (EIS) is prepared, is described in SER Volume 1, Chapters 6 and 32.  Guidance for all other forms of scoping efforts is provided in CEQA Guidelines Section 15060 - 15065 and CEQ Memoranda regarding NEPA Regulations and Scoping as well as in SER Volume 1, Chapters 31, 35 and 36.

The PEAR Handbook is available to assist with preparation of the PEAR.

In December of 2013, the Department introduced the “Mini-PEAR.” The Mini-PEAR is a tool to provide the minimum level of environmental scoping that should be undertaken at the PID phase of a project to develop the project’s environmental scope, schedule, and cost in later phases. The addition of the Mini-PEAR as a tool does not change any existing policy regarding when a PEAR must be prepared, and the use of the Mini-PEAR is not required.

If the anticipated environmental document is an EIR and/or EIS, the preparation of a standard PEAR is strongly recommended to avoid unanticipated costs and project delays.


Flowchart for Projects off the State Highway SystemPDF document (10KB)


Local agencies should work through their Regional Transportation Planning Agency (RTPA), County Transportation Commission, or Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), as appropriate, to nominate projects for inclusion in the STIP.  The MPO and rural RTPAs may use Planning, Programming, and Monitoring (PPM) funds or conduct preliminary environmental analysis prior to a project being programmed in the STIP.  Doing so would ensure development of more accurate project cost estimates and schedules.  Typically, however, local agencies program the project first in order to obtain the funds necessary to conduct the PES.  All local agency Federal-aid transportation projects must be included in a federally-approved Federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (FSTIP) prior to authorization of funds for Preliminary Engineering and environmental studies.  For further guidance on environmental procedures for local assistance projects, see the Local Assistance Procedures Manual (LAPM), Chapter 6.

Preliminary Environmental Study (PES) Form

After the local agency obtains the Authorization to Proceed from the Department, the PES is the initial step in the federal environmental process for projects off the SHS, and is required for all local assistance projects.  The PES will provide the information required to determine the studies to be performed and the recommended level of NEPA documentation (CE, EA, or EIS).  For a project proposed as a CE under 23 USC 326 or 327, the PES and the CE Checklist will provide complete and sufficient information required to assure the project meets the criteria for a CE. For further guidance, see SER Volume 1, Chapters 30 and 38.

The purpose of the PES is to determine the potential presence of sensitive environmental resources within the project area.  A complete and signed PES form is required for all projects.  A PES form is provided in the LAPM Chapter 6, Exhibit 6-A, “Preliminary Environmental Study (PES) Form".   “Instructions for Completing the Preliminary Environmental Study (PES) Form” are provided in LAPM Chapter 6, Exhibit 6-B.


Requesting A PEAR

Once the candidate project is identified for possible programming, the request is made to the appropriate Environmental Office to develop a PEAR as early as possible.  See the PEAR Handbook, Appendix D, which contains the Environmental Study Request (ESR) form.  For further guidance on how to request the initiation of studies for the PEAR, see the PEAR Handbook, Chapter 3.  The ESR must include the schedule for the PID development, the date the PEAR is needed, the Purpose and Need Statement developed by the Project Development Team (PDT, the project description, all alternatives, a location map, a map of the footprint of the project study area, and aerial photographs if available; a typical cross section of the project, if applicable; and other design information that would assist in development of a workplan for the Project Approval and Environmental Document phase (PA&ED).

Coordination of the PEAR Development:

The environmental planner generalist coordinates the preparation of the PEAR and the information submitted by the applicable environmental specialists. The generalist accurately summarizes the information from the specialists in the text of the PEAR and in the workplan for the future environmental analysis and document preparation efforts.  The PEAR Handbook provides detailed information on the roles and responsibilities of the generalist and technical specialists.

Potential environmental issues and constraints are identified by review of literature, GIS files, records, the Photolog, and a windshield survey or site visit of the project area.  Detailed surveys, such as those conducted during the preparation of the environmental document, are not necessary at this point. For details on the methodology to develop a PEAR, see PEAR Handbook, Chapter 5.

Contents and Format of the PEAR

The PEAR shall be as concise as possible and must convey the potential environmental issues and constraints and estimate the scope, cost and schedule for achieving PA&ED.  The following is a summary of the format. Please see the PEAR Handbook for details of the topics to be addressed and suggested contents.

  • Project Information
  • Project Description
  • Anticipated Environmental Approval
  • Special Considerations
  • Anticipated Environmental Commitments (for standard PSRs)
  • Permits and Approvals
  • Level of Effort: Risks and Assumptions
  • PEAR Technical Summaries
  • Summary Statement for PSR or PSR-PDS
  • Disclaimer
  • Reviewed by
  • Review and Approval
  • PEAR Required Attachments: PEAR Environmental Studies Checklist; PEAR Environmental Commitments Cost Estimate; Estimated Resources by WBS Code, Schedule

A Mini-PEAR is even more concise and should be no more than three pages (excluding attachments). In lieu of field surveys, the use of existing environmental documentation for the project area, such as CDFW’s Natural Diversity Database, internal Department databases, and other tools such as Google Earth, Caltrans Digital Highway Inventory Photography Program (DHIPP), and the Caltrans Photolog is encouraged for the preparation of a Mini-PEAR. If sufficient PID hours are available, participation by the environmental planner/generalist in a PDT field review is encouraged. A Mini-PEAR should focus on those environmental issues most likely to affect project scope, schedule, and cost. For more information, please see the Mini-PEAR which can be found on the PEAR page.

Reviewing and Approving the PEAR

The generalist circulates the PEAR to the specialists who provided information, the project manager, and the project engineer for review.  The PEAR is revised as appropriate.  The completed, PEAR is reviewed and approved by the District/Region Environmental Office Chief and the project manager and then transmitted to the project engineer and the person responsible for developing the PID.  A copy of the PEAR is retained in the Environmental File.

Preparer Qualifications

There are no statutes or regulations that mandate the qualifications of the person preparing a PEAR.  In practice, an environmental planner generalist coordinates the gathering of information and writes the PEAR and the workplan.


The preliminary environmental study process was developed exclusively for Federal-aid local assistance projects off the SHS, and consists of two parts: 1) a four-step Preliminary Environmental Investigation process, and 2) completion of the PES form.

Preliminary Environmental Investigation

The Preliminary Environmental Investigation process consists of four steps:

  1. The development of a complete project description which addresses independent utility and logical termini, existing and proposed cross sections, and project map
  2. A review of relevant literature, maps and inventories
  3. A request for technical information from resource and regulatory agencies; and
  4. Verification of research findings in the field (site visit), and field review with Department staff.

Step-by-step procedures for completing the preliminary environmental investigation and the PES form are provided in the LAPM Chapter 6, Exhibit 6-B and Section 6.4.   It is important that local agencies and their consultants carefully follow and complete each step to avoid unexpected project costs or delays in project development and to ensure a “complete and sufficient” submittal.

Step 1. Develop Complete Project Description and Detailed Map

The local agency completes the top portion of page 1 of the PES, identifying Agency, Project Number, Target Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED), FSTIP and construction time frame.  The local agency completes the Project Description box on page 1 of the PES form.  The project description should be consistent with the project as described in the FSTIP.  Additional information regarding project limits, purpose and need, logical termini and independent utility should also be provided.  The local agency prepares the required attachments (Regional Map, Project Location Map, Project Footprint Map showing existing and proposed right-of-way, and Engineering Drawings).  All maps should be at a minimum scale of 1"=200'.  For more information, see LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.4, and LAPM Exhibit 6-B.

Step 2. Review Relevant Literature, Maps and Inventories

Information for accessing relevant literature, maps and inventories is provided in LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.2.

Step 3. Request Technical Information from Resource and Regulatory Agencies

Instructions for requesting technical information from resource and regulatory agencies are provided in LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.2.

Step 4. Verify Research Findings in the Field (Site Visit)

Information regarding verification of findings is provided in LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.4.

Technical Studies

When preliminary environmental investigations indicate a potential for sensitive resources within the project area, the local agency is responsible for undertaking appropriate technical studies to confirm the presence of resources and to determine the potential significant effect(s) of the project on the resource.  A list of required technical studies is provided under Section C of the PES Form.

Note:  Several technical studies (including, but not limited to, Biology, Wetlands, Publicly Owned Public Parks and Wildlife Refuges, and Cultural Resources) may require the Department's involvement for consultation under regulation or interagency agreement.  Detailed instructions for completing these technical studies are contained in the FHWA’s Technical Advisory 6640.8A and SER Volume 1, Chapters 14, 15, 20, 30 and 38 and SER Volumes 2 and 3.

CEs PURSUANT TO 23 USC 326 and 23 USC 327

There are two general means of categorically excluding a project under NEPA: 1) 23 USC 326 categorical exclusions (CE), and 2) 23 USC 327 CE. To help aid in determining which type of categorical exclusion to use and to help document the CE determination, the CE checklist must be used to document the CE determination and compliance with other federal requirements. For more detailed information on the differences between CEs under 23 USC 326 and 23 USC 327 and for information on preparing and processing CEs, see SER Volume 1, Chapters 30 and 38.

 When Technical Studies are Required

Complete PES Sections C through F and coordinate with the District Local Assistance Engineer (DLAE).  When all questions (except for #10) under Sections A and B of the PES Form cannot be answered “No,” the local agency completes Sections C through G, and signs the PES Form.  Refer to LAPM, Exhibit 6-B, for detailed instructions on completing PES Sections C through G.

Technical Studies for CE

Refer to LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.6, for instructions on processing technical studies that require the Department's review, approval or action.

The PES Form

The following describes the information required in a PES form:

Purpose and Need of Project

For major or controversial projects, early discussion and coordination on "Purpose of and Need for Action" (for probable EA or EIS) should be undertaken and consistent with the FHWA Technical Advisory 6640.8A.  A well-defined Purpose and Need statement is important because it helps to define the project scope, guide the development and evaluation of alternatives, identify potential context sensitive solutions, provide legally defensible transportation decisions, and justify projects for programming.  Purpose and Need statements may be found in either the Project Nomination sheets that are submitted to your MPO/RTPA, or in the STIP.  For further guidance on Purpose and Need statements, see the Environmental Management Office's (EMO) website, and SER Volume 1, Chapter 31 and 32.

Project Description

The Project Description should briefly describe major components of the proposed work, and should be consistent with the Project Description contained in the FSTIP.


For major or controversial projects (probable EA or EIS) alternatives discussion should be provided consistent with the FHWA Technical Advisory 6640.8A. For further guidance, see SER Volume 1, Chapters 31 and 32, and the Alternatives Analysis Frequently Asked Questions.

Mapping Requirements

The local agency prepares a detailed map of the project area showing project boundaries and right of way ownership including any areas needed for construction access or staging.


The LAPM Chapter 6 includes exhibits that may be required attachments to a PES form.

Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements

Refer to LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.7, 6.8, and 6.9, for instructions on environmental assessments (EAs) and EISs, and to SER Volume 1, Chapter 31 and 32.

Processing the PES Form for Concurrence

Refer to LAPM Chapter 6, Section 6.4, 6.5, and 6.6 for instructions on processing completed PES forms, the CE Checklist and supporting documentation to the DLAE for concurrence prior to commencing with technical studies. For 23 USC 326 CEs, see the DEA NEPA Assignment website and SER Volume 1, Chapters 30 and 38 for further guidance.

Preparer Qualifications

There are no statutes or regulations that mandate the qualifications of the person preparing a PES; in practice, for local agency projects, a qualified environmental consultant or the local agency staff coordinates the gathering of information and writes the PES.


(Last content update: 8/11/14: JH)