NEPA and the EPA in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.] was the first major environmental law in the United States. Congress enacted NEPA in December 1969 and President Richard Nixon signed it into law on January 1, 1970. All federal agencies are required to comply with NEPA before they make any decision concerning federal actions that could have environmental consequences. NEPA applies to a wide range of federal actions that may include: federal construction projects, management and development of federally owned lands, grants, licenses and permits, and federally funded projects. Private individuals or companies become involved in the NEPA process when they need a permit issued by a federal agency or seek federal funding for their projects.
The NEPA Process
The NEPA process consists of an evaluation of the environmental effects of a federal undertaking, including its alternatives, and measures to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts. There are three levels of NEPA analysis: categorical exclusion determination; preparation of an environmental assessment/finding of no significant impact (EA/FONSI); and preparation of an environmental impact statement/ record of decision (EIS/ROD).
- Categorical Exclusion: At the first level, an undertaking may be categorically excluded from a detailed environmental analysis if it meets certain criteria and is a type of project previously identified by a federal agency as having no significant environmental impact. A number of agencies have developed regulations outlining the categories, types of actions, and projects which typically involve minimal environmental impacts and are normally eligible for categorical exclusion from detailed environmental evaluation. Projects ineligible for categorical exclusion must proceed with preparation of a detailed NEPA document, as outlined below.
- EA/FONSI: At the second level of analysis, a federal agency prepares a written environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether or not a federal undertaking would significantly affect the environment. If the answer is no, the agency issues a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The FONSI may address alternatives and measure the agency or project proponent may take to mitigate potentially significant impacts.
- EIS/ROD: If an agency determines the environmental consequences of a proposed federal undertaking may be significant, an environmental impact statement (EIS) is prepared. An EIS is a detailed evaluation of the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, as well as measures to minimize and mitigate those impacts. The public, other federal agencies, and outside parties may provide input into the preparation and content of an EIS and then comment on the draft when it is completed. Once a final EIS is prepared the federal agency will prepare a public record of decision (ROD) outlining the agency’s decision on the undertaking and addressing how the findings of the EIS, including consideration of alternatives, minimization, and mitigation measures, were incorporated into the agency’s decision-making process.
The EPA’s Role
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), like all other federal agencies, prepares NEPA documents for its actions subject to NEPA review. EPA actions subject to NEPA compliance include:
Many EPA actions are exempt from the procedural requirements of NEPA, including actions take under:
- EPA’s issuance of “new source” NPDES permits under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA);
- EPA’s award of wastewater treatment construction grants under Title II of the CWA;
- EPA research and development projects;
- EPA actions involving renovations or new construction of facilities;
- Grants awarded for projects authorized by Congress through EPA’s annual Appropriations Budget (i.e. earmarks or Special Appropriations Act Projects)
In addition to complying with the procedural provisions of NEPA for its actions, EPA also has a unique responsibility in the NEPA review process. Pursuant to Section 309 of the CAA, the EPA is required to review, comment, and rate EISs and some EAs prepared by all other federal agencies. The Office of Federal Activities in EPA Headquarters has been designated the official recipient of all EISs prepared by federal agencies. EPA’s reviews are made available to the public and are intended to assist agencies in improving their NEPA analysis and decision-making.
- The Clean Water Act, except the issuance of NPDES permits to “new sources;”
- The Clean Air Act (CAA);
- The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA);
- The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA);
- The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA);
- The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA);
- The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
EPA Region 10 NEPA Compliance Contact Information
EPA Region 10 (Pacific Northwest) serves Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 Native Tribes. If you have a plan or project within Region 10 that you believe may require EPA NEPA compliance please contact us as soon as possible. We are happy to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have. All inquiries should be directed to: