National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1969. The purposes of the act are: "To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality."

In general, NEPA requires federal agencies to study the environmental impact of any proposed federal actions significantly affecting the human environment. Federal actions include such things as building projects, roads, oil and mining leases, parkland purchases and military activities. The required studies, called Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), must include a statement of (1) the environmental impact; (2) adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided; (3) alternatives to the proposed action; (4) relationship between short-term use of the environment and long-term productivity; and (5) any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources.

Though NEPA might appear to have little bite - after all, it doesn't restrict the government from taking action like the Endangered Species Act, it only requires a study before action is taken - it has become the chief tool environmental activists use to halt federal projects. Federal courts, interpreting the mandates of NEPA broadly, have been very receptive to their arguments. Activists can successfully use NEPA to stop federal projects because the high cost of an EIS and the possibility of expensive, time-consuming litigation can often make a project too costly to pursue. While environmental activists consider NEPA an important tool to protect the environment, many non-environmental groups consider NEPA a wasteful layer of bureaucracy that empowers extremists to delay and even stop worthwhile federal projects.

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House Task Force Hears Testimony on Improving Decades-Old Environmental Law
Michael Coulter
Environment & Climate News
August 1, 2005

This article reports on the new U.S. House of Representatives task force charged with reviewing NEPA. The article discusses...

Shovel This: Senate Acknowledges NEPA is a Problem for Infrastructure
Ross Eisenberg
The Chamber Post
February 6, 2009

This article discusses the average time spent on litigation by projects that trigger NEPA...

Chart or Graph

NEPA can add 4 to 6 years to a transportation project.

Analysis Report White Paper

McCubbins discusses the issue of Congress delegating legislative authority to the executive branch, and particularly the agencies within the executive branch. McCubbins points out that that delegation has been taking place since the 1880s and the likelihood of rolling it back completely is unlikely.

"This article provides post-Winter guidance to federal courts addressing issues under NEPA where the Supreme Court has not definitively spoken."

This commentary discusses the views of the American Farm Bureau Federation on NEPA and its concern that NEPA, by paralyzing effective forest management operations, is actually contributing to an increase in "stand replacing" wildfires.

A task force reviewed NEPA implementing practices and procedures in the following areas: technology and information management and security; federal and intergovernmental collaboration; programmatic analyses and subsequent tiered documents; and adaptive management and monitoring.

Eagle focuses on property rights in the piece, but references NEPA on pages 28 and 29 and how Takings Impact Assessment Statutes at the state level could be modeled after NEPA to bolster property rights.

Unsurprisingly, this government study of NEPA, by the government office charged with implementing NEPA, finds NEPA is a success. The study's major critique of NEPA is that agencies do not always properly incorporate the Environmental Impact Statement into their decision-making process.

This report details the impediments that NEPA and other well meaning but poorly coordinated environmental regulations can result in transportation projects spending four to six years complying with regulation before construction can start.


"The FTA's guide to becoming an effective and constructive participant in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process."


Primary Document

NEPA Handbook
Bureau of Land Management
January 2008

The handbook was revised in 2008 in an effort to streamline NEPA and reduce the costs of implementation.


To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man.

The Role of NEPA in the Intermountain States
House Committee on Resources Hearings
August 1, 2005

Click on the link to read testimonies before the House Task Force on Improving NEPA.

Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council
United States Supreme Court
No. 07–1239
November 12, 2008

The Natural Resources Defense Council held that the Navy's use of "mid-frequency active" (MFA) sonar during training exercises in the waters off southern California...



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