National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT OF 1969
By the 1960s it had become clear that human activities were producing profound effects on the natural environment. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was the first comprehensive environmental law enacted in the United States, and it established a broad national framework to:
- Encourage productive and enjoyable between man and his environment.
- Promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man.
- Enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the nation.
- Establish a Council on Environmental Quality.
Specifically, NEPA requires that agencies assess the environmental impacts of significant activities such as the construction of airports, buildings, military complexes, and highways; parkland purchases; and other proposed federal activities. Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), which are assessments of the likelihood of impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from all federal agencies and are the most visible NEPA requirements.
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is based in the Executive Office of the President, and the chair of the CEQ reports to the president. The president must file an Environmental Quality Report to Congress each year. The CEQ has the job of assisting the president with preparation of this report, along with a number of responsibilities related to gathering information and developing national policies on the environment.
Soon after its establishment, the CEQ played a major in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 1970, and since that time it has continued to be the voice for the environment within the White House. The CEQ serves as a forum for the settlement of disputes about environmental policy within the federal government where various cabinet agencies and White House offices come together to resolve issues over major policies. While the administrator of the EPA and the secretary of the interior are the most visible public figures with environmental responsibility within the federal government, the director of CEQ often serves in an advisory capacity to the president of the United States.
Perhaps one of the most important consequences of NEPA was to require that every federal agency incorporate environmental considerations into decision making. This began a process of incorporating environmental information into the work of agencies that had no prior environmental expertise and made protecting the environment and natural resources an objective of all federal agencies. As a result, most U.S. agencies have an expert staff to assess the environmental consequences of their actions.
The NEPA also served as a precedent that influenced environmental legislation in the fifty states and in other countries. The notion of an environmental impact assessment for significant activities has been incorporated into numerous other legislative efforts—often with other requirements, such as public hearings and approval processes. This in turn has increased the involvement of stakeholders in environmental decisions in many parts of the world.
LYNN R. GOLDMAN