National Environmental Policy Act
Signed into law on January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was the first major environmental law in the United States and established this country’s environmental policies. To implement these policies, NEPA instructs agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions before making decisions.
Two of the major purposes of this process are to:
- Disclose environmental effects, and
- Make informed decisions.
The NEPA process consists of an evaluation of the environmental effects of a federal undertaking including its alternatives. There are three levels of analysis: Categorical Exclusion determination; preparation of an Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI); and preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- Categorical Exclusion:
- At the first level, an undertaking may be categorically excluded from a detailed environmental analysis if it meets certain criteria which a federal agency has previously determined as having no significant environmental impact. A number of agencies have developed lists of actions which are normally categorically excluded from environmental evaluation under their NEPA regulations.
- At the second level of analysis, a federal agency prepares a written environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether or not a federal undertaking would significantly affect the environment. If the answer is no, the agency issues a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The FONSI may address measures which an agency will take to mitigate potentially significant impacts.
- If the EA determines that the environmental consequences of a proposed federal undertaking may be significant, an EIS is prepared. An EIS is a more detailed evaluation of the proposed action and alternatives. The public, other federal agencies and outside parties may provide input into the preparation of an EIS and then comment on the draft EIS when it is completed.
If a federal agency anticipates that an undertaking may significantly impact the environment, or if a project is environmentally controversial, a federal agency may choose to prepare an EIS without having to first prepare an EA. After a final EIS is prepared and at the time of its decision, a federal agency will prepare a public record of its decision addressing how the findings of the EIS, including consideration of alternatives, were incorporated into the agency's decision-making process.
Under NEPA, Congress established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President to ensure that Federal agencies met their obligations under the Act and to establish implementing procedures in regulation. CEQ regulations, found at 40 CFR 1507.3, require Federal agencies to:
- Adopt procedures as needed to supplement CEQ regulations implementing NEPA and
- Consult with CEQ during the development of proposed procedures and before publishing them in the Federal Register.
NEPA further encourages agencies to publish internal agency explanatory guidance for CEQ regulations and agency procedures.
In 1979, the Forest Service decided to combine its implementing procedures and explanatory guidance in its directive system: Forest Service Manual (FSM) 1950 and Forest Service Handbook (FSH) 1909.15. The blending of NEPA implementing procedures with internal explanatory guidance required the Forest Service to consult with CEQ whenever the Forest Service amended any guidance explaining CEQ or Forest Service procedures even if the changes were very small or insignificant. This has resulted in an unnecessary administrative burden for the Forest Service and CEQ.
Moving the NEPA procedures to the CFRs better meets CEQ regulations (40 CFR 1507.3) and mirrors other federal agencies by having its procedures in regulation.
The Forest Service will continue to provide additional guidance to field units about NEPA implementation in its directives. The Forest Service Directives System includes manuals and handbooks. Manuals contain legal authorities, objectives, policies, responsibilities, instructions, and guidance that Forest Service line officers and primary staff need on a continuing basis to plan and implement their programs and activities. Handbooks are specialized guidance and instruction on how to carry out FSM direction and have the same force and effect as manual direction.
EIS Scoping Period had ended. ARP is processing comments.
Learn more about this Project
The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to consider and disclose the anticipated environmental effects of implementing select projects from the 2011 Master Plan for Eldora Mountain Resort (Eldora). Through the identification of opportunities and constraints at the ski area, the proposed projects are designed to allow Eldora to meet guest expectations for a safe, quality, recreational experience by providing appropriate lifts, terrain, and guest services at the resort.
To learn more about this project and view a process flowchart click here.