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National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

In 1969 the Congress of the United States was struggling to respond to widespread and growing public concern over the quality of the nation's environment. This concern had been building for several years in light of numerous reports that the country's air, water, wildlife, and quality of human life were being degraded, in part by activities undertaken, funded, or permitted by the federal government.

From more than 30 bills introduced to address various aspects of this issue, committees in the Senate and House of Representatives each produced a bill to declare a national policy in favor of environmental quality. These bills also established by law a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President, modeled on the Council of Economic Advisors, that would advise the President on environmental matters and monitor the environmental performance of the executive branch agencies.

The National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law in January 1970. Its general purposes 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.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) includes the specific requirement that all federal agencies must prepare and circulate, for major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement on the environmental impacts, adverse environmental effects, and alternatives to the proposed action. Consequently, federal agencies began developing environmental impact statements (EIS) to evaluate the impacts of an activity, and a set of alternative actions, on the affected environment. Under CEQ regulations, a federal agency may prepare an environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether the preparation of an EIS is necessary. That is, an EA may conclude that the proposed action would not significantly affect the environment. Rather than proceed with preparing an EIS, the federal agency may issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI).

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies are required to seek the views of the state regarding a proposed action, but are not required to comply with state laws or policies. However, federal agencies are obligated to respond to state comments on NEPA documents and to attempt to accommodate the state's concerns. Regardless of this obligation, NEPA does not compel compliance with state laws as CZMA does. However, it was the first law requiring federal agencies to consider the impact of their activities on the environment, and to provide a forum for determining compliance with other federal laws, including CZMA. Because of this, a NEPA document is usually a key opportunity for making the state’s consistency decision.

 

Last updated: January 27, 2011

  Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 47  Tallahassee, Florida 32399
850-245-2118 (phone) / 850-245-2128 (fax) 
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