Overview

AuthorNicholas C. Yost
Pages1-7
Page 1
I. Overview
Introduction
e National Environmental Policy Act1 (NEPA) is the most pervasive of A merica’s panoply of environ-
mental laws. Other statutes seek to conserve specic media (such as air, water, or land), to regulate specic
endeavors (such as surface mining or introduction of new chemicals), or to protect specic places or ora
or fauna (such as wilderness areas or endangered species). In contrast, NEPA involves all these areas, seek-
ing to balance a broad range of environmental factors as well as “other essential considerations of national
policy.”2 An understanding of NEPA and its processes is a necessary predicate to the pract ice of environ-
mental law. is chapter is intended to provide that understanding.
e chapter is organized as a reference for practitioners working with NEPA as well as for others seeking
an explanation of the law’s requirements and operation. Section I of this Chapter provides a n overview of
the legislation, examining t he U.S. Congress’ intent in passing it, its stated purposes, and the institutional
actors responsible for its implementation. Section II analyzes NEPA’s administrative process, placing spe-
cial emphasis on the stages leading to preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS), NEPA’s
most conspicuous requirement. Finally, Section III examines the role of the courts in enforcing NEPA and
reviewing agency decisions.
NEPA’s Purposes
NEPA is “our basic national charter for protection of the environment.3 Its purposes and policy, as declared
in §§2 and 101,4 are broadly worded, demonstrating the Act’s wide reach and intent.5 It is “the center piece
of environmental regulations in the United States . . . .”6 As noted above, the breadth of its stated goals
sets NEPA apart from all other environmental statutes, which regulate specic aspects of our environment.
NEPA encompasses all environmental values and forces the federal government and its permittees to bear
those values in mind as they plan ahead. To accomplish this task, NEPA sets out two basic and related
objectives: Preventing environmental damage a nd ensuring that agency decisionmakers take environmen-
tal factors into account.
1. 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4347, ELR S. NEPA §§2-209.
2. Id. §4331(b), ELR S. NEPA §101(b). “NEPA is the broadest and perhaps most important of the environmental statutes.” Oregon
Nat. Desert Ass’n. v. Bureau of Land Management, 531 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008).
3. 40 C.F.R. §1500.1(a); People of the State of California v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 575 F.3d 999, 1012 (9th Cir. 2009).
4. 42 U.S.C. §§4321, 4331, ELR S. NEPA §§2, 101.
5. CEQ’s NEPA regulations describe the Act’s purposes and organizational scheme:
e National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is our basic national charter for protection of the environment. It establishes
policy, sets goals (section 101), and provides means (section 102) for carrying out the policy. Section 102(2) contains action-
forcing” provisions to make sure that federal agencies act according to the letter and spirit of the Act. e regulations that follow
implement section 102(2). eir purpose is to tell federal agencies what they must do to comply with the procedures and achieve
the goals of the Act. e President, the federal agencies, and the courts share responsibility for enforcing the Act so as to achieve the
substantive requirements of section 101.
40 C.F.R. §1500.1(a).
6. State of New Mexico v. Bureau of Land Management, 565 F.3d 683, 703 (10th Cir. 2009).

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