The National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a federal law that formed the basis of the United States’ environmental policy and established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Enacted on January 1, 1970, NEPA was intended to ensure that environmental concerns are considered equally alongside other factors during the decision-making process regarding large, man-made projects.

NEPA’s most significant impact was requiring federal agencies to prepare Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) documents for any project thought to have a significant impact on the environment. These documents have come to include intensive environmental assessment and planning, inter-agency communication, as well as soliciting and responding to public comments.

NEPA was borne out of increasing environmental concern throughout the United States during the 1960s and laid the groundwork for other important environmental legislation, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. NEPA applies to any project that includes an agency of the federal government, or that receives federal funding or permits. In addition to NEPA, more than 30 states have enacted similar legislation of their own to either add an additional layer of environmental consideration for projects in their jurisdiction or to provide oversight on smaller projects that might not reach NEPA’s threshold.