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General Conformity

General Conformity Training Module 3.3: Response to Emergency Events

Words that are shown in bold and italics are defined in the Glossary.

Federal agencies often take action to respond to emergencies and do not have time to complete a review process before they need to take the actions. The General Conformity Regulations recognize this and provide for an initial 6-month exemption from the regulations with procedures for 6-month extensions of the exemption. EPA’s regulations define emergency event as follows:

Emergency means a situation where extremely quick action on the part of the federal agency involved is needed and where the timing of such federal activities makes it impractical to meet the requirements of the [regulations], such as natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, civil disturbance such as terrorist attacks and military mobilizations.”

In most cases, the President of the United States or a governor will have declared a state of emergency or has issued orders regarding the emergency. However, federal agencies can also determine that the emergency exists. In most cases, responses to emergencies, or at least the activities that cause significant emissions, can be completed within six months.

The federal agency does not have to produce any paperwork to justify the initial response. Agencies can reasonably justify emergency responses in cases where action must be taken. The federal agencies responding to an emergency have broad latitude in taking actions. However, the longer the time period between the emergency event and the action taken by the federal agency, the greater the risk that the federal agency’s action could be challenged as a response to an emergency.

To extend the exemption beyond the initial 6-month period the federal agency must make a written determination that it is impractical to prepare the conformity analysis that would otherwise be required. Copies of the written determination should be provided to the affected EPA Regional Office(s), states and tribes. When the federal agency wants to extend the exemption again, then it must provide a draft copy of the determination to affected EPA Regional Office(s), states and tribes for a 15-day comment period and publish a notice of the determination in a prominent advertisement in a daily newspaper of general circulation in the affected area. The agency can extend the exemption for up to 6 months. Two additional extensions are permitted by following the same procedures. However, the agency must complete a conformity evaluation if the action would extend more than 2 years beyond the date of the event.