SEPA checklist guidance

Governmental agencies use the SEPA environmental checklist to help determine whether a proposal will have significant adverse environmental impacts. The information helps identify what measures can be taken to avoid, counter, or minimize likely impacts or whether compensatory mitigation measures could be used to offset adverse effects. Agencies also determine whether an environmental impact statement will be needed to analyze a proposal.

Purpose of SEPA environmental checklist

Under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), local governments and state agencies use the environmental checklist to help determine whether a proposal's impacts are likely to be significant. This helps determine:

  • If an applicant can put measures in place to avoid, minimize, or counter adverse effects.
  • Whether compensatory mitigation measures can offset significant impacts.
  • If an environmental impact statement (EIS) needs to be prepared for further analysis. 

Applicant instructions

The environmental checklist asks an applicant to describe basic information about their proposal. Avoid processing delays by answering each question carefully, accurately, and with some detail. Applicants may need to consult an agency specialist or private consultant.

It is not acceptable to reply "not applicable" or "does not apply" unless the proponent can explain why the question does not apply, not just because an answer is unknown. In addition, applicants can attach, or incorporate by reference, additional studies and reports.

The checklist information applies to all parts of a proposal, regardless of when phases of the project or permitting will occur. The lead agency may ask for additional information to determine if a proposal is likely to have significant environmental impacts, so applicants should be prepared to provide it.

SEPA checklist for non-project proposals

Non-project actions are governmental actions involving decisions:

  • About policies, plans, or programs containing standards for controlling the use or modifying the environment.
  • That will govern a series of connected actions.

Only government agencies can initiate non-project action reviews, and requirements vary by jurisdiction. Non-project action analysis gives agencies, communities, and the public an opportunity to examine planned actions before a project begins and permit applications prepared. Early analysis of environmental impacts helps streamline the permitting process.

General guidance for non-project actions

Non-project and project proposals follow the same procedural requirements under SEPA. Environmental review starts as early in the process as possible when sufficient information is available to analyze probable environmental impacts.

The process usually starts by completing an environmental checklist. An exception is if the lead agency has already determined an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed or SEPA is complete. Proposals should be described as an alternative means of accomplishing an objective.

For example, a statewide plan to use chemicals to treat aquatic vegetation could be described as "a plan to control aquatic vegetation." This encourages a review of different treatment alternatives since the environmental review might evaluate biological or mechanical control methods or a combination of various approaches.

If the non-project action deals with a land-use decision or a proposal to govern future development, the likely environmental impacts need to be considered. An early, detailed analysis can result in a less in-depth environmental review since the work has been done up front.

Table of contents

These links provide critical information about the different components of the SEPA environmental checklist required by state rule (WAC 197-11-160) including preparation guidance.