5. What is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970?
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) was first major federal environmental statute. It lays out broad goals and steps for federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations into decision-making. NEPA has been held to not be a substantive act; rather, it is made up of procedural statutes requiring federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of proposed projects before taking action. NEPA applies to all federal agencies. It does not apply to states or private parties, unless there is sufficient federal involvement to bring the actions within the “federal nexus” (i.e. federal financing or federal permitting). Most notably, NEPA requires that the federal government undertake an “environmental assessment” and prepare an “environmental impact statement” before undertaking certain projects. The agency is not required to prepare an impact statement if the initial assessment deems that the project will have no significant adverse impact on the environment. If the agency moves forward with the impact statement, it must include the statement in every procedural reporting aspect of the project.
• Note: Before the environmental statement is completed, NEPA requires that agencies designate significant environmental issues associated with a contemplated action.