The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires agency planning, scientific analysis, and public participation in the planning process for new usage projects proposed for public land. The NEPA process begins when a proposal is created in response to a call for action and includes disclosure of all alternative actions, exploring experiential concerns of the affected public, and environmental impact consideration throughout the planning and decision making process. NEPA provides a procedure for environmental evaluation but does not ensure a specific outcome in decision making. There are three levels of documents needed depending on the project: Categorical Exclusions for routine administrative procedures, Environmental Assessment for the proposed plans, and Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed actions.
Each federal government agency is required to undertake scientifically valid conservation planning to establish and assert a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. Consideration for environmental conditions is encouraged through an interdisciplinary, systematic approach to processing proposals for action and change on public lands. The entire process is well documented to ensure reasonable effort is made to engage all the stakeholders, encourage participation from all interested and affected local citizens, and alternative action plans have been suffieciently researched and considered with regard to environmental impact and the goals for the use of the resource.
The human dimensions of NEPA start with a careful examination of all available scientific reports regarding social, economic, and health impacts during the environmental assessment and identification of alternative action plans. When gaps in data and reports are identified, quality scientific research, such as analyzing attitudes and levels of tollerance, is needed to guide reasonable alternatives as well.
Is the proposed project subject to a categorical exclusion from NEPA?
When should the NEPA process begin?
How is the human environment going to change?
- If there are data sets for stakeholder attitudes already available, these are a good starting point gauging which alternative action plans are reasonable and fall within the tollerance threshold
- Current scientific reports examining human health impacts, economic influences, and cultural significance are essential pieces to establishing a reasonable set of alternatives before seeking direct public involvement.
Examples of Studies or Initiatives
- Project: Mountain of the Rogue Trail System. The propsed action for this project is expanding the trail system for hikers and mountain bikers so that mountain bikers could have access to the trails. This public lands in this project are the Bureau of Land Management's responsability, and this link provides a timeline of documents and actions taken by the BLM and public throughout the NEPA process. This project originated in response to a formal request from the public to build a mountain bike trail system near Rogue River, Oregon.
- Department of Transportation: Environmental Justice in NEPA Case Studies. There are a collection of transportation projects and initiatives that involve both NEPA and concerns for Environmental Justice. A list of recent case studies and their supporting documentation can be found here.
- NEPA and the Consideration of Alternatives: A Case Study of the Corps of Engineers' Planning for Carmel River. This publication in the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review explores how the courts have played a role in clarifying what is required by federal agencies under NEPA through this particular case study of how the act was applied by the Army Corps of Engineers.
- NEPA Library. The EPA provides a collection of projects documenting the NEPA process used throughout their planning and implementation.
- Social Media in the NEPA Process. The Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released a slideshow highlighting three case studies of social media used in the NEPA process.
Organizations, Programs, and Conferences
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is the federal organization charged with overseeing NEPA and providing guidance for all other federal agencies implementing NEPA processes. Several documents providing policy support and clarification can be obtained through the CEQ.
For a compilation of NEPA guidance, tools, and success stories check out NEPA.gov
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969: the complete document. http://www.epw.senate.gov/nepa69.pdf
The Department of Energy Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance hosts a document encapsulating the "Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act Regulations"
The Council on Environmental Quality monitors and tracks the use of NEPA. Lessons learned, handbooks, steps taken to modernize NEPA, and tools for reporting NEPA activities can all be found here.