Letter to Diana Alvarado, U.S.Postal Service, re proposed relocation and sale of Berkeley Main Post Office (NEPA)
Dear Ms. Alvarado:
Several of the historic and civic individuals and organizations testifying before your hearing this evening have asked me to provide comment on the applicability of the National Enviromnental Policy Act (NEPA) to the proposed relocation and sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office.
By way of qualifications a brief biographical summary is attached. As an individual I am familiar with the Berkeley Main Post Office as a frequent user of it, most recently to obtain passport renewals for my daughters, who attend Berkeley High School within one block of the building.
In my opinion NEPA applies to the proposed action of the United States Postal Serivce (USPS), under NEPA the relocation and sale represent a major federal action affecting the human enviromnent, no categorical exclusion can lie, and therefore before taking any official decision on relocation or sale, an enviromnental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared and circulated for public review.
- NEPA applies to the Postal Service. City of Rochester v. United States Postal Service, 541 F.2d 967 (2d. Cir. 1976); Chelsea Neighborhood Associations v. United States Postal Service, 516 F.2d 378 (2d Cir. 1975); 39 C.P.R. part 775.
- The "major federal action" --the "whole of the action" -- defined by your notice is that of relocation and sale. ("If this relocation is approved, USPS anticipates selling the current Berkeley Main Post Office building.") The action cannot be segmented into relocation only when the driving force for that action is the intended sale. 40 C.F.R. §1508.25 ("connected actions ... should be discussed in the same impact statement").
- Assessment of the relocation and sale must take place at the earliest possible moment to ensure that impacts are acknowledged, alternatives identified, and both the proposal and impacts are assessed before decision and in time to allow meaningful public participation. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.5 (EIS "shall be prepared early enough" to contribute to decison-making .and "not be used to rationalize or justify decisions already made"). Assessment after relocation will prove meaningless, because at that time the remaining alternatives will only ask how to deal with an empty, publicly-inaccessible building.
- Substantial, indeed overwhelming, evidence to be presented tonight supports the conclusion that relocation and sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office will produce an adverse impact on the environment, which includes both the loss of an historic resource and community disruption. City of Rochester, supra; 40 C.F.R. § 1508.14 ("human environment shall be interpreted comprehensively" to include "physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment").
- USPS cannot rely on a "categorical exclusion" to escape the duty to prepare an EIS. The regulations of both the Council on Environmental Quality and U.S. Postal Service itself do not allow categorical exclusions in cases such as this, representing "extraordinary circumstances in which a normally excluded action may have a significant adverse effect." 40 C.F.R. § 1508.4; 39 C.F.R. § 775.6; see also 39 U.S.C. § 404 (no Congressional NEPA exemption for closure or consolidation of post offices).