The National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) is a law that became effective on January 1, 1970. In reaction to severe declines in the health of the natural environment that had become particularly evident during the 1960’s, Congress passed NEPA, as well as a number of other laws protecting the environment. NEPA was written to ensure that Federal decision-makers take into account the environmental effects of their proposed actions and consider ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects before implementing the action. This is also the purpose of the NRCS environmental evaluation process.
Ultimately, of course, it is not better documents but better decisions that count. NEPA’s purpose is not to generate paperwork – even excellent paperwork – but to foster excellent action. The NEPA process is intended to help public officials make decisions that are based on understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore, and enhance the environment.
NEPA: As Policy
NEPA is unique among laws, because it established a Federal policy.
NEPA declares “…it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans”.
This policy statement should sound familiar -- it describes what NRCS is working to accomplish with private landowners and sponsors.
Policy: “The purposes of this Act are: To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; To promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality.”
CEQ regulations include requirements for making certain information available to the public and also establish three “categories” of federal actions for which documentation requirements vary — actions normally requiring an EIS, actions normally requiring an EA and actions that are categorically excluded.
NEPA: CEQ Implementing Regulations
In addition to outlining the detailed procedural requirements, the regulations identify the purpose of the procedural requirements and make it clear that NEPA applies to all actions over which a Federal agency has control or responsibility.