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General Description

Federal agencies are required to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.

Summary of Federal Requirements

The basic policy of NEPA requires the Federal Government to make environmentally informed decisions when implementing major Federal actions and to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. Section 101 (b) of the Act states "it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy" to avoid environmental degradation, preserve historic, cultural, and natural resources, and "promote the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without undesirable and unintentional consequences."

Federal facilites must include the NEPA process as a routine part of new project/construction development and when potentially environmentally significant issues are identified. This includes:

  • early cooperative consultation among agencies, such as SHPO, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Tribes, is also a part of new project development
  • identification of environmental effects and values in adequate detail so they can be compared to economic and technical analysis
  • development and description of appropriate alternatives are to recommended actions in any proposal that involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources; and
  • use USEPA documents to evaluate and compare reasonable alternatives to recommend actions in any proposals.

NEPA requires a detailed statement on the environmental impact of the proposed action, by the responsible official, for Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. These detailed statements take the form of Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) depending upon whether a project significantly affects the human environment.

An EA is required to be completed and submitted for review before any contract for action is entered into or action is begun unless the action normally requires an EIS or the action qualifies for a categorical exclusion. It is important to note that an EA will be prepared according to Agency policies. Title 40 CFR 1501.3 states that agencies will adopt procedures to indicate when an EA is required to be done. See Agency NEPA Procedures for information on individual agency policies.

If, due to the results of an EA, an EIS is not going to be prepared, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) must be prepared and made publicly available.

An EIS must be produced for any activity which normally required an EIS including:

  • the adoption of new Agency programs or regulations that cover broad Federal actions
  • technological developments with significant affect on the quality of the environment
  • an EA indicates it is necessary.

All Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), together with comments and responses, prepared by federal agencies are filed with EPA. Each week, EPA publishes in the Federal Register a Notice of Availability for all of the EISs filed the previous week. The EPA Notice of Availability is the official start of the public comment/wait periods required under the Council on Environmental Quality's regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act.

EPA has developed a set of criteria for rating draft EISs. The rating system provides a basis upon which EPA makes recommendations to the lead agency for improving the draft.

Rating the Environmental Impact of the Action

  • LO (Lack of Objections) The review has not identified any potential environmental impacts requiring substantive changes to the preferred alternative. The review may have disclosed opportunities for application of mitigation measures that could be accomplished with no more than minor changes to the proposed action.
  • EC (Environmental Concerns) The review has identified environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment. Corrective measures may require changes to the preferred alternative or application of mitigation measures that can reduce the environmental impact.
  • EO (Environmental Objections) The review has identified significant environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to adequately protect the environment. Corrective measures may require substantial changes to the preferred alternative or consideration of some other project alternative (including the no action alternative or a new alternative). The basis for environmental Objections can include situations:
    1. Where an action might violate or be inconsistent with achievement or maintenance of a national environmental standard;
    2. Where the Federal agency violates its own substantive environmental requirements that relate to EPA's areas of jurisdiction or expertise;
    3. Where there is a violation of an EPA policy declaration;
    4. Where there are no applicable standards or where applicable standards will not be violated but there is potential for significant environmental degradation that could be corrected by project modification or other feasible alternatives; or
    5. Where proceeding with the proposed action would set a precedent for future actions that collectively could result in significant environmental impacts.
  • EU (Environmentally Unsatisfactory) The review has identified adverse environmental impacts that are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the proposed action must not proceed as proposed. The basis for an environmentally unsatisfactory determination consists of identification of environmentally objectionable impacts as defined above and one or more of the following conditions:
    1. The potential violation of or inconsistency with a national environmental standard is substantive and/or will occur on a long-term basis;
    2. There are no applicable standards but the severity, duration, or geographical scope of the impacts associated with the proposed action warrant special attention; or
    3. The potential environmental impacts resulting from the proposed action are of national importance because of the threat to national environmental resources or to environmental policies.

Rating the Adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

  • (Adequate) The draft EIS adequately sets forth the environmental impact(s) of the preferred alternative and those of the alternatives reasonably available to the project or action. No further analysis or data collection is necessary, but the reviewer may suggest the addition of clarifying language or information.
  • (Insufficient Information) The draft EIS does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment, or the reviewer has identified new reasonably available alternatives that are within the spectrum of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS, which could reduce the environmental impacts of the proposal. The identified additional information, data, analyses, or discussion should be included in the final EIS.
  • (Inadequate) The draft EIS does not adequately assess the potentially significant environmental impacts of the proposal, or the reviewer has identified new, reasonably available, alternatives, that are outside of the spectrum of alternatives analyzed in the draft EIS, which should be analyzed in order to reduce the potentially significant environmental impacts. The identified additional information, data, analyses, or discussions are of such a magnitude that they should have full public review at a draft stage. This rating indicates EPA's belief that the draft EIS does not meet the purposes of NEPA and/or the Section 309 review, and thus should be formally revised and made available for public comment in a supplemental or revised draft EIS.

Summary of State Requirements

NEPA is primarily a federal program, the number of states with NEPA-like requirements are minimal.

Laws and Statutes

National Environmental Policy Act

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Regulatory Sources
40 CFR 1501.1 through 1501.8
Council on Environmental Quality, NEPA and Agency Planning

40 CFR 1502.1 through 1502.25
Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Impact Statement

40 CFR 1503.1 through 1503.4
Council on Environmental Quality, Commenting

40 CFR 1505.1 through 1505.3
Council on Environmental Quality, NEPA and Agency Decisionmaking

40 CFR 1506.1 through 1506.12
Council on Environmental Quality, Other Requirements of NEPA

40 CFR 1508.1 through 1508.28
Council on Environmental Quality, Terminology and Index
Related Topics
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Last Updated: December 17, 2010