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The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Learn how NEPA might impact your business and how to remain compliant

What is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, generally considered the magna carta of all subsequent federal, state, and local environmental policy, compels federal agencies to consider the effects to the environment of any action they fund, authorize, or carry out.  Projects on federal lands or projects using federal funds are subject to a rigorous environmental review process in accordance with the guidelines of the Act.

Each federal agency implements their NEPA obligations differently. Some federal agencies require a detailed environmental review, while other agencies have created blanket permits that allow for streamlined NEPA compliance.

For your project, contact the applicable federal land management agency or funding agency as soon as possible in the development cycle to determine the level of environmental review necessary for your project. NEPA environmental review has the potential to be a long, complex process that may have big consequences to the project schedule.

Visit the NEPA website here >>

A Brief History of NEPA

Prior to the 1960’s, environmental awareness in the US was virtually nonexistent. The Lacey Act of 1900 prohibited illegal plant and animal trade, the Antiquities Act of 1906 preserved national monuments, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 had been passed in response to over-hunting, but the US had no laws targeting the impacts of human-centered activities on the environment, nor did anyone really seem to care. 

Then, in the 1960s, following the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio (1969), and public backlash from the Interstate Highway System, public concern for the environment heightened.  Decades of increased urbanization, industrial expansion, and resource exploitation was putting the continued health of the environment at risk. Following a congressional investigation into federal mismanagement of the country’s environmental resources, NEPA was signed into law by President Nixon on January 1, 1970. 

In the Act, Congress stated that “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… 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.”

Learn more about NEPA’s history >>

 

What NEPA Documents Should I Know About?

  1. Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s) - An EIS is required if a proposed project is determined to significantly affect the quality of the human environment.  This is the most burdensome of the NEPA documents, with a lengthy 24-36+ month timeline and public review and comment.

  2. Environmental Assessments (EA’s) - An EA is a discovery document that determines whether or not a project will result in significant environmental impacts. If it will, then preparation of an EIS is required. If the project will not cause significant environmental impacts, then a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is prepared. EAs can still get caught up in a long review timeline (12-18 months). EAs also require public review and comment.

  3. Categorical Exclusions (CatEx’s) - Certain projects may be “categorically excluded” from needing an EA or an EIS if the federal agency has predetermined that the proposed action does not have a significant impact on the environment. CE documentation is typically limited to a brief document confirming no impact to sensitive environmental or social resources. Public review and comment is not required.

Learn more about the EPA review process >>

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What Does NEPA Protect? 

Specific guidance and instructions on how to implement NEPA are determined by each individual agency. However, in general, NEPA requires each agency to evaluate the effects of the proposed project action to the following resources:

  • Water use and quality;
  • Fish, wildlife, and vegetation;
  • Cultural resources;
  • Socioeconomics/Environmental Justice;
  • Geological resources;
  • Soils;
  • Hazardous materials/contamination;
  • Land use, recreation, and visual aesthetics;
  • Noise and air quality; and,
  • Safety.

Learn more about NEPA’s policies here >>

What are Industry Considerations for NEPA Compliance?

Check out the lists below to find out what NEPA issues are commonly encountered by our various industry customers.

NEPA Compliance Reports from Transect

Wondering how your project can remain NEPA compliant? 

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Transect’s environmental due diligence platform makes it easy. With NEPA-focused data, regulations, and permits specific to your project, you can quickly identify things like prime farmlands, species habitat, wetlands, cultural resources, contaminated areas, and more with just a few clicks. 

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