National Environmental Policy Act

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a piece of legislation that is responsible for requiring the federal government to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to actually undertaking. This move was to crack down on the rampant corporate abuses against the environment and surrounding communities. Instead of continuing to allow projects to be pursued without regard to the consequences of them, this legislation requires planning, oversight and mitigation of harm.

NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970 and is a quite broad piece of legislation in what it covers. Some of the things it includes are the process for making decisions on permit applications, constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities, and adopting federal land management actions.

NEPA outlines the process for evaluating the environmental, as well as the related social and economic, effects of proposed projects or actions. In conjunction with this, it provides the federal government the opportunity to intervene or require mitigation. It also increases transparency in general, as potential environmental impacts must be made available to the public. They must also provide opportunities for public review and comment. This free availability of information gives communities the opportunity to advocate for themselves prior to a project is underway.

Some of the assessments and documentation required by NEPA include three different levels of analysis. The first being categorical exclusions, then environmental assessment or the finding of no significant impact, and finally drafting an environmental impact statement. A federal action may be “categorically excluded” from an in depth environmental analysis when the action in question doe not normally have a significant effect on the human environment.

The Environmental Assessment would be the next step if something does not qualify for a categorical exemption. The EA involves determining whether a proposed action has the potential to cause significant effects on the environment. The EA will discuss the purpose and need for a desired project, alternatives, the environmental impacts of the action and their alternatives, and a listing of agencies and persons consulted.

In cases where the EA determines there will be significant impacts, an Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared. The process for regulating and reviewing these are much more rigorous. The process includes filing a Notice of Intent to keep the public informed, drafting the EIS for public review and comment, publishing a final and updated EIS, and then a ends with the issue of a Record of Decisions (ROD).

Overall, this rigorous process is designed to regulate public and private groups and individuals alike, protect the environment and communities, and increase transparency. The public has a right to know about how businesses and others` activities are impacting our shared environment. Private profit should not be at the expense of public health and wellness.