What is the National Environmental Policy Act?

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Signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.) was the first major environmental law in the United States. It requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of proposed major federal actions prior to decisions being made on whether and how to proceed. NEPA also established the Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President to ensure federal agencies meet their obligations under the Act.

As our basic national environmental charter, NEPA established federal policy for protecting the environment, set goals, and provided the means for carrying out that policy. NEPA promotes more informed agency decision making by ensuring that high-quality environmental information is available to agency officials and the public before the agency decides whether and how to undertake a major federal action.

The NEPA Process

The NEPA process is triggered when a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action that might have impacts on the human or natural environment. NEPA requires that agencies participating in a major federal action evaluate all reasonable alternatives to implementing the action as well as a No Action Alternative. Visit www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/ for more information.

NEPA is triggered for the proposed Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) deployment and Minuteman III decommissioning and disposal.

A mother whooping crane with chick.
A whooping crane with chick.

Environmental Impact Statement

The appropriate level of review depends on the significance of the Proposed Action. NEPA defines “significance” as “the consideration of the context and intensity of the potential environmental impacts associated with the Proposed Action.”

NEPA requires the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if a project or activity has the potential to cause significant effects on the natural or human environment.

An EIS is the most detailed and comprehensive environmental analysis specified under NEPA and describes the impacts on the natural and physical environments resulting from a Proposed Action. It also describes plans to lessen or eliminate negative impacts.

An EIS analyzes the environmental effects of the Proposed Action and its alternatives. Preparing an EIS includes opportunities for public involvement in agency planning/decision-making processes. The document begins by describing the Proposed Action and alternatives for implementing it and continues by describing the baseline conditions of the affected environment. The effects of the Proposed Action and alternative actions are evaluated against that baseline. Both the human and natural environments are considered in the study process. An EIS details the project’s potential environmental consequences (direct, indirect, and cumulative) and the measures necessary to mitigate those consequences. An EIS, in conjunction with other relevant materials, is used by federal agencies to plan actions and to make decisions.

An EIS is the appropriate level of NEPA documentation for the proposed GBSD action based on the project’s potential for significant impacts.

A grizzly bear with a fish in its mouth.
A grizzly bear with a fish in its mouth.

Preparing An EIS

  1. Issue a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS under NEPA.

  2. Develop a Public Affairs Plan and determine lead and cooperating agencies.

  3. Conduct scoping to consult and coordinate with regulatory agencies and the public to identify issues to be addressed in the EIS (the “scoping” period).

  4. Prepare a summary of comments received during the scoping period.

  5. Prepare the Draft EIS.

  6. Circulate the Draft EIS for agency and public comment.

  7. Publish a Notice of Availability and conduct public hearings.

  8. Prepare a summary of comments received.

  9. Revise the EIS to address comments received.

  10. Prepare the Final EIS.

  11. Circulate the Final EIS for agency and public comment.

  12. Accept the Final EIS/issue a Record of Decision.

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