The greenest bill on Capitol Hill: Understanding the National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law in 1969 and has been working hard ever since to meet important economic development needs while protecting the environment for people, creatures and natural habitats.
NEPA applies when the federal government is involved in a development project – usually through funding or federal permits. Example projects are airports, train tracks, malls, dams, prisons and parks.
NEPA incorporates a rigorous evaluation of the project’s environmental impacts as input into the development process. The organization leading the project works hand-in-hand with various stakeholders, the public and government agencies to ensure projects are evaluated and decisions are made in a timely manner.
Each project is assigned what is called a lead agency – the organization within the federal government that oversees the NEPA process for the project. Example lead agencies are the US Forest Service and the Department of Transportation.
The lead agency decides which of three types of documentation will be required: Categorical Exclusion, Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Each one is more involved than the next.
The general public can review submissions and provide feedback in multiple ways, often through local public meetings and hearings. The lead agency makes the final decision about whether or not the project moves forward and how.
Since NEPA was signed into law, more than 25,000 EISs have been issued. Today, approximately 50,000 EAs and 500 EISs are prepared each year.
Learn more about how NEPA works by following a real-world project example through the evaluation process at CSX.com.