Environmental Protection Information: Introduction To NEPA

One of the first laws developed for the protection of the environment and the people of the United States. History, progess and advances for the EPA.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was enacted in 1969 for the purpose of creating a national policy to make people aware of their environment, to prevent further endangerment to the environment, and to create a Council on Environmental Quality. NEPA was one of the first laws written for the purpose of protecting the environment. This Act creates a policy that makes all government branches accountable for taking into consideration any environmental impacts that could arise from any Federal actions, such as airports, military installations, roadways or other construction activities.

NEPA calls for Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) to be done by the Federal agencies as a method of determining what, if any, effects a project might have on the environment. The purpose behind NEPA is to make sure that the United States uses every means possible to make sure the environment is protected for future generations, that Americans are provided with a safe and healthy country to live in, to use the environment in a way that benefits the people without degradation or harm, to protect and preserve objects and areas of historical or cultural significance to the national heritage and to utilize renewal resources to the benefit of the people and the environment.

The policies and regulations in NEPA must be adhered to by all Federal agencies and an interdisciplinary system will be used for planning and review of possible activities that may cause environmental impacts. Subchapter II of NEPA calls for the creation of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) that will be involved with decision making and is to take into consideration any technical and economic values for reviewing possible impacts. The CEQ is made up of three members appointed by the President, with one member being named as Chairperson. The members must have sufficient training, education and knowledge to qualify them as being capable to interpret and analyze the technical and socio-economic data for the actions proposed by the Federal agencies. The CEQ has the ability to designate and appoint employees or consultants as needed to abide by NEPA.

When a Federal action is being considered, the necessary Federal agencies are responsible for reporting on the possible impacts from a proposed project, the possible impacts that cannot be avoided and the permanent or irreversible dangers to the environment, and any possible alternatives to the proposal. Any statements or reports from Federal agencies need to be made available to the President, the CEQ and the public before any official decisions are made. Any comments are to be included along with the proposal as a matter of record.

There are three exemptions to NEPA; congressionally exempt actions (listed in Appendix 2 of NEPA), emergency actions (those that require immediate action regardless to impacts), and rejections of proposed actions (those that may be rejected because of another regulation).

The President is responsible for creating an Environmental Quality Report that documents the standing of the air quality, national waters, including fresh water, estuarine and marine waters, and the land-based environment, which includes forests, wetlands, cities, suburbs and rural areas, within the United States. This report will include possible degradation, impacts, social and economic effects, and the status of natural resources that are used for recreation and economic benefit. The report should also include any solutions or mitigation techniques that may be required to solve current or future impacts.

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