What is the National
Environmental Policy Act?
The National Environmental Policy Act is a federal law that
formally established a U.S. national policy responsible for promoting the
enhancement of the environment. The National Environmental Policy Act, which
was enacted on January 1st of 1970, also established the President’s
Council on Environmental Quality.
The most significant effect of the National Environmental
Policy Act came in the form of procedural requirements; the legislation
instituted requirements for all agencies of the federal government in order to
prepare Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments. These
procedural requirements contain statements of the environmental effects of
proposed—and subsequently instituted—federal agency actions. The National
Environmental Policy Act’s procedural requirements apply to all agencies of the
United States Federal Government’s Executive Branch. The National Environmental
Policy Act; however, does not apply to the President, the federal courts or to
History of the
National Environmental Policy Act:
The National Environmental policy Act of 1969 was enacted by
the 91st United States Congress. The legislation came into existence
following increasing public awareness and appreciation for the environment;
growing concerning about the well-being of wildlife and ecosystems also contributed
to the passing of the National Environmental Policy Act 1969.
Another major influence for enacting the national
Environmental Policy Act were the freeway revolts that occurred in response to
the construction of the Interstate Highway System—a project that required
deforestation and the bulldozing of communities around the Nation. As a result
of the public’s outcry following this project, the provisions of the National
Environmental Policy Act were then applied to any subsequent federal, state or
local project. Court rulings throughout the history of the National
Environmental Policy Act have since expanded the regulations for NEPA-related
studies or endeavors to include actions where permits for a federal agency are
necessary, regardless of whether or not the project is federally funded.
Although the act was enacted in 1970, the legislation is referred to as the
“National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”
Concerning the National Environmental Policy Act:
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 establishes
the national environmental policy and the coordinating goals for the
protection, enhancement and maintenance of the environment. The National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 also provides a formal process for implementing
these goals within the agencies of the United States Federal Government.
The National Environmental Policy Act contains three primary
The declaration of national policies and goals
regarding the environment
The establishment of action-forcing procedures
and provisions; federal agencies are required to enforce these policies and
The formal establishment of a Council on
Environmental Quality; this office is positioned within the Executive Office of
The purpose of these sections is to ensure that
environmental concerns are evaluated equally when compared to other factors in
the decision making process of the coordinating federal agencies. The National
Environmental Policy Act, to establish the nation’s environmental policy,
offers a multidisciplinary approach to assessing environmental effects with
regard to federal government decision making.
As stated above, the national Environmental Policy Act of
1969 formally established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
This board was created to advise the President (and the Executive Branch) in
the preparation of annual reports regarding the quality of the environment.
These reports address the state of federal agencies and their actions
concerning environmental quality.
The National Environmental Policy Act 0f 1969 is an
action-forcing piece of legislation; violations of the laws do not carry
criminal or civil actions. Enforcement of the Act is obtained through the
process of the United States court system.
The National Environmental policy Act covers a number of
federal agency actions; however, the legislation does not apply to wholly
private or purely public state actions—such a provision denotes an absence of
public influence or funding concerning a specific action.
Requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act:
Title I of the National Environmental Policy Act contains
the Declaration of National Environmental policy, which mandates the federal
government to use all means to create and subsequently maintain conditions
under which humans and nature can exist in fecund harmony.
Section 102 of the National Environmental Policy Act
requires all agencies of the Federal Government to incorporate environmental
considerations in regards to planning and decision-making procedures through a
systematic approach. More specifically, these agencies are required to prepare
detailed statements to assess the environmental impact of and more efficient
alternatives to federal actions that affect the environment. Title II of the
National Environment Policy Act establishes the Council on Environmental
the Council on Environmental Quality:
The Council on Environmental Quality oversees the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The Council, which is headed by a Chairman,
is responsible for fulfilling the following duties and functions:
The Council on Environmental Quality gathers
information concerning the conditions and trends regarding environmental
Develops and promotes national policies to
improve environmental quality
Evaluates federal programs in conjunction with
the foals established in Title I of the National Environmental Policy Act
Conducts studies, research, analyses and surveys
relating to environmental quality and the nation’s ecosystems.
Environmental Policy Act’s Process:
The process aligned with the National Environmental Process
consists of an evaluation of the effects of a federal undertaking and
alternative procedures in alignment with the environment. There are three
levels of evaluation within the National Environmental Policy Act: preparation
of an environmental assessment; categorical exclusion of determination; and a
preparation of environmental impact statements.
Categorical exclusions represent the first level of the
National Environmental Policy’s Process. At this level, an undertaking may be
excluded from the government’s environmental analysis, only if certain
criterion, with which a federal agency has previously determined as
ineffective, is met. Several federal agencies utilize lists of actions that are
categorically excluded from environmental evaluation under the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
The Environmental Assessment/finding of no significant
impact level of evaluation requires a federal agency to prepare a written
environmental assessment in order to determine whether a federal undertaking
would significantly affect the environment. If the evaluation yields
inconclusive evidence, the underlying agency will issue a finding of “no
significant impact.” The “finding of no significant impact” may address
procedures which an agency will take to disrupt or mitigate potentially
The third level of analysis, the preparation of an
environmental impact statement, is affirmed if the environmental consequences
of a federal undertaking are deemed significant. An environmental impact
statement is a detailed evaluation of the proposed action and its alternatives.
If the agency anticipates that a procedure may impact the environment or if the
undertaking is considered controversial, the agency may choose to prepare an
environmental impact statement without having to prepare an environmental
The Role of the
The exact role of a federal agency within the National
Environmental Policy Act will depend on the entity’s relationship and expertise
to the proposed undertaking. That being said, the agency carrying out the
action is responsible for complying with the requirements listed under the
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
In some cases, multiple federal agencies will be involved
with the process; in this situation, a lead agency will be designated to
supervise preparation of the analysis.
Any federal state or local agency in possession of special
expertise with regard to an environmental concern may be considered a
cooperating agency in the National Environmental Policy Act’s process.
Cooperating agencies have the responsibility to assist lead agencies by
participating in the legislation’s process.
Full Text of the
Environmental Policy Act of 1969:
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended
(Pub. L. 91-190, 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347, January 1, 1970, as
amended by Pub. L. 94-52, July 3, 1975, Pub. L. 94-83, August 9, 1975, and Pub.
L. 97-258, § 4(b), Sept. 13, 1982)
An Act to establish a national policy for the environment,
to provide for the establishment of a Council on Environmental Quality, and for
Be it enacted by the Senate and
House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this
Act may be cited as the “National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”
Sec. 2 [42 USC § 4321].
The purposes of this 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.
CONGRESSIONAL DECLARATION OF NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY
Sec. 101 [42 USC § 4331].
(a) The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s
activity on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment, particularly
the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization,
industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding
technological advances and recognizing further the critical importance of
restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and
development of man, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal
Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other
concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and
measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated
to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions
under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the
social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of
(b) In order to carry out the policy set forth in this Act,
it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all
practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national
policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and
resources to the end that the Nation may —
the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for
for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and
culturally pleasing surroundings;
the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without
degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended
important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national
heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports
diversity, and variety of individual choice;
a balance between population and resource use which will permit high
standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities; and
the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable
recycling of depletable resources.
The Congress recognizes that each person should enjoy a healthful environment
and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and
enhancement of the environment.
Sec. 102 [42 USC § 4332].
The Congress authorizes and directs that, to the fullest
extent possible: (1) the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United
States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies
set forth in this Act, and (2) all agencies of the Federal Government shall —
(A) utilize a systematic,
interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural
and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in
decisionmaking which may have an impact on man’s environment;
(B) identify and develop methods and procedures, in
consultation with the Council on Environmental Quality established by title II
of this Act, which will insure that presently unquantified environmental
amenities and values may be given appropriate consideration in decisionmaking
along with economic and technical considerations;
(C) include in every recommendation or report on proposals
for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the
quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible
official on —
environmental impact of the proposed action,
(ii) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be
avoided should the proposal be implemented,
(iii) alternatives to the proposed action,
(iv) the relationship between local short-term uses of man’s
environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and
(v) any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of
resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.
Prior to making any detailed statement, the responsible
Federal official shall consult with and obtain the comments of any Federal
agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any
environmental impact involved. Copies of such statement and the comments and
views of the appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies, which are
authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards, shall be made
available to the President, the Council on Environmental Quality and to the public
as provided by section 552 of title 5, United States Code, and shall accompany
the proposal through the existing agency review processes;
(D) Any detailed statement required under subparagraph (C)
after January 1, 1970, for any major Federal action funded under a program of
grants to States shall not be deemed to be legally insufficient solely by
reason of having been prepared by a State agency or official, if:
(i) the State
agency or official has statewide jurisdiction and has the responsibility for such
(ii) the responsible Federal official furnishes guidance and
participates in such preparation,
(iii) the responsible Federal official independently
evaluates such statement prior to its approval and adoption, and
(iv) after January 1, 1976, the responsible Federal official
provides early notification to, and solicits the views of, any other State or
any Federal land management entity of any action or any alternative thereto
which may have significant impacts upon such State or affected Federal land
management entity and, if there is any disagreement on such impacts, prepares a
written assessment of such impacts and views for incorporation into such
The procedures in this subparagraph
shall not relieve the Federal official of his responsibilities for the scope,
objectivity, and content of the entire statement or of any other responsibility
under this Act; and further, this subparagraph does not affect the legal
sufficiency of statements prepared by State agencies with less than statewide
(E) study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to
recommended courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved
conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources;
(F) recognize the worldwide and long-range character of
environmental problems and, where consistent with the foreign policy of the
United States, lend appropriate support to initiatives, resolutions, and
programs designed to maximize international cooperation in anticipating and
preventing a decline in the quality of mankind’s world environment;
(G) make available to States, counties, municipalities,
institutions, and individuals, advice and information useful in restoring,
maintaining, and enhancing the quality of the environment;
(H) initiate and utilize ecological information in the
planning and development of resource-oriented projects; and
(I) assist the Council on Environmental Quality established
by title II of this Act.
Sec. 103 [42 USC § 4333].
All agencies of the Federal Government shall review their
present statutory authority, administrative regulations, and current policies
and procedures for the purpose of determining whether there are any
deficiencies or inconsistencies therein which prohibit full compliance with the
purposes and provisions of this Act and shall propose to the President not
later than July 1, 1971, such measures as may be necessary to bring their
authority and policies into conformity with the intent, purposes, and
procedures set forth in this Act.
Sec. 104 [42 USC § 4334].
Nothing in section 102 [42 USC § 4332] or 103 [42 USC §
4333] shall in any way affect the specific statutory obligations of any Federal
agency (1) to comply with criteria or standards of environmental quality, (2)
to coordinate or consult with any other Federal or State agency, or (3) to act,
or refrain from acting contingent upon the recommendations or certification of
any other Federal or State agency.
Sec. 105 [42 USC § 4335].
The policies and goals set forth in this Act are supplementary
to those set forth in existing authorizations of Federal agencies.
COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Sec. 201 [42 USC § 4341].
The President shall transmit to the Congress annually
beginning July 1, 1970, an Environmental Quality Report (hereinafter referred
to as the “report”) which shall set forth (1) the status and
condition of the major natural, manmade, or altered environmental classes of
the Nation, including, but not limited to, the air, the aquatic, including
marine, estuarine, and fresh water, and the terrestrial environment, including,
but not limited to, the forest, dryland, wetland, range, urban, suburban an
rural environment; (2) current and foreseeable trends in the quality,
management and utilization of such environments and the effects of those trends
on the social, economic, and other requirements of the Nation; (3) the adequacy
of available natural resources for fulfilling human and economic requirements
of the Nation in the light of expected population pressures; (4) a review of
the programs and activities (including regulatory activities) of the Federal
Government, the State and local governments, and nongovernmental entities or
individuals with particular reference to their effect on the environment and on
the conservation, development and utilization of natural resources; and (5) a
program for remedying the deficiencies of existing programs and activities,
together with recommendations for legislation.
Sec. 202 [42 USC § 4342].
There is created in the Executive Office of the President a
Council on Environmental Quality (hereinafter referred to as the
“Council”). The Council shall be composed of three members who shall
be appointed by the President to serve at his pleasure, by and with the advice
and consent of the Senate. The President shall designate one of the members of
the Council to serve as Chairman. Each member shall be a person who, as a
result of his training, experience, and attainments, is exceptionally well
qualified to analyze and interpret environmental trends and information of all
kinds; to appraise programs and activities of the Federal Government in the
light of the policy set forth in title I of this Act; to be conscious of and
responsive to the scientific, economic, social, aesthetic, and cultural needs and
interests of the Nation; and to formulate and recommend national policies to
promote the improvement of the quality of the environment.
Sec. 203 [42 USC § 4343].
(a) The Council may employ such officers and employees as
may be necessary to carry out its functions under this Act. In addition, the
Council may employ and fix the compensation of such experts and consultants as
may be necessary for the carrying out of its functions under this Act, in
accordance with section 3109 of title 5, United States Code (but without regard
to the last sentence thereof).
(b) Notwithstanding section 1342 of Title 31, the Council
may accept and employ voluntary and uncompensated services in furtherance of
the purposes of the Council.
Sec. 204 [42 USC § 4344].
It shall be the duty and function of the Council —
assist and advise the President in the preparation of the Environmental
Quality Report required by section 201 [42 USC § 4341] of this title;
gather timely and authoritative information concerning the conditions and
trends in the quality of the environment both current and prospective, to
analyze and interpret such information for the purpose of determining
whether such conditions and trends are interfering, or are likely to
interfere, with the achievement of the policy set forth in title I of this
Act, and to compile and submit to the President studies relating to such
conditions and trends;
review and appraise the various programs and activities of the Federal
Government in the light of the policy set forth in title I of this Act for
the purpose of determining the extent to which such programs and
activities are contributing to the achievement of such policy, and to make
recommendations to the President with respect thereto;
develop and recommend to the President national policies to foster and
promote the improvement of environmental quality to meet the conservation,
social, economic, health, and other requirements and goals of the Nation;
conduct investigations, studies, surveys, research, and analyses relating
to ecological systems and environmental quality;
document and define changes in the natural environment, including the
plant and animal systems, and to accumulate necessary data and other
information for a continuing analysis of these changes or trends and an
interpretation of their underlying causes;
report at least once each year to the President on the state and condition
of the environment; and
make and furnish such studies, reports thereon, and recommendations with
respect to matters of policy and legislation as the President may request.
Sec. 205 [42 USC § 4345].
In exercising its powers, functions, and duties under this
Act, the Council shall —
with the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality established
by Executive Order No. 11472, dated May 29, 1969, and with such
representatives of science, industry, agriculture, labor, conservation
organizations, State and local governments and other groups, as it deems
to the fullest extent possible, the services, facilities and information
(including statistical information) of public and private agencies and
organizations, and individuals, in order that duplication of effort and
expense may be avoided, thus assuring that the Council’s activities will
not unnecessarily overlap or conflict with similar activities authorized
by law and performed by established agencies.
Sec. 206 [42 USC § 4346].
Members of the Council shall serve full time and the
Chairman of the Council shall be compensated at the rate provided for Level II
of the Executive Schedule Pay Rates [5 USC § 5313]. The other members of the
Council shall be compensated at the rate provided for Level IV of the Executive
Schedule Pay Rates [5 USC § 5315].
Sec. 207 [42 USC § 4346a].
The Council may accept reimbursements from any private
nonprofit organization or from any department, agency, or instrumentality of
the Federal Government, any State, or local government, for the reasonable
travel expenses incurred by an officer or employee of the Council in connection
with his attendance at any conference, seminar, or similar meeting conducted
for the benefit of the Council.
Sec. 208 [42 USC § 4346b].
The Council may make expenditures in support of its
international activities, including expenditures for: (1) international travel;
(2) activities in implementation of international agreements; and (3) the
support of international exchange programs in the United States and in foreign
Sec. 209 [42 USC § 4347].
There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the
provisions of this chapter not to exceed $300,000 for fiscal year 1970,
$700,000 for fiscal year 1971, and $1,000,000 for each fiscal year thereafter.
The Environmental Quality Improvement Act, as amended
(Pub. L. No. 91- 224, Title II, April 3, 1970; Pub. L. No. 97-258, September
13, 1982; and Pub. L. No. 98-581, October 30, 1984.
42 USC § 4372.
(a) There is established in the
Executive Office of the President an office to be known as the Office of
Environmental Quality (hereafter in this chapter referred to as the
“Office”). The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality
established by Public Law 91-190 shall be the Director of the Office. There
shall be in the Office a Deputy Director who shall be appointed by the President,
by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
(b) The compensation of the Deputy Director shall be fixed
by the President at a rate not in excess of the annual rate of compensation
payable to the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
(c) The Director is authorized to employ such officers and
employees (including experts and consultants) as may be necessary to enable the
Office to carry out its functions ;under this chapter and Public Law 91-190,
except that he may employ no more than ten specialists and other experts
without regard to the provisions of Title 5, governing appointments in the
competitive service, and pay such specialists and experts without regard to the
provisions of chapter 51 and subchapter III of chapter 53 of such title
relating to classification and General Schedule pay rates, but no such
specialist or expert shall be paid at a rate in excess of the maximum rate for
GS-18 of the General Schedule under section 5332 of Title 5.
(d) In carrying out his functions the Director shall assist
and advise the President on policies and programs of the Federal Government
affecting environmental quality by —
the professional and administrative staff and support for the Council on
Environmental Quality established by Public Law 91- 190;
the Federal agencies and departments in appraising the effectiveness of
existing and proposed facilities, programs, policies, and activities of
the Federal Government, and those specific major projects designated by
the President which do not require individual project authorization by
Congress, which affect environmental quality;
the adequacy of existing systems for monitoring and predicting
environmental changes in order to achieve effective coverage and efficient
use of research facilities and other resources;
the advancement of scientific knowledge of the effects of actions and
technology on the environment and encouraging the development of the
means to prevent or reduce adverse effects that endanger the health and
well-being of man;
in coordinating among the Federal departments and agencies those programs
and activities which affect, protect, and improve environmental quality;
the Federal departments and agencies in the development and
interrelationship of environmental quality criteria and standards
established throughout the Federal Government;
collating, analyzing, and interpreting data and information on
environmental quality, ecological research, and evaluation.
(e) The Director is authorized to
contract with public or private agencies, institutions, and organizations and
with individuals without regard to section 3324(a) and (b) of Title 31 and
section 5 of Title 41 in carrying out his functions.
42 USC § 4373. Each Environmental Quality
Report required by Public Law 91-190 shall, upon transmittal to Congress, be
referred to each standing committee having jurisdiction over any part of the
subject matter of the Report.
42 USC § 4374. There are hereby authorized to
be appropriated for the operations of the Office of Environmental Quality and
the Council on Environmental Quality not to exceed the following sums for the
following fiscal years which sums are in addition to those contained in Public
Law 91- 190:
(a) $2,126,000 for the fiscal year
ending September 30, 1979.
(b) $3,000,000 for the fiscal years ending September 30,
1980, and September 30, 1981.
(c) $44,000 for the fiscal years ending September 30, 1982,
1983, and 1984.
(d) $480,000 for each of the fiscal years ending September
30, 1985 and 1986.
42 USC § 4375.
(a) There is established an Office
of Environmental Quality Management Fund (hereinafter referred to as the
“Fund”) to receive advance payments from other agencies or accounts
that may be used solely to finance —
contracts that are jointly sponsored by the Office and one or more other
Federal agencies; and
interagency environmental projects (including task forces) in which the
(b) Any study contract or project
that is to be financed under subsection (a) of this section may be initiated
only with the approval of the Director.
(c) The Director shall promulgate
regulations setting forth policies and procedures for operation of the Fund.