National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance
"To declare 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..."
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, is a United States environmental law that established a U.S. national policy promoting the enhancement of the environment and also established the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). NEPA's most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). EAs and EISs contain statements of the environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions. NEPA's procedural requirements apply to all federal agencies in the executive branch. NEPA does not apply to the President, to Congress, or to the federal courts.
The NEPA process consists of an evaluation of relevant environmental effects of a federal project or action undertaking, including a series of pertinent alternatives. The NEPA process begins when an agency develops a proposal to address a need to take an action. Once a determination of whether or not the proposed action is covered under NEPA is made, there are three levels of analysis that a federal agency may undertake to comply with the law. These three levels include: preparation of a Categorical Exclusion (CE), preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI); or preparation and drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Preparation of a Categorical Exclusion
A CE is a category of actions that the agency has determined does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment (40 C.F.R. §1508.4). If a proposed action is included in the description provided for a listed CE established by the agency, the agency must check to make sure that no extraordinary circumstances exist that may cause the proposed action to have a significant effect in a particular situation. Extraordinary circumstances typically include such matters as effects to endangered species, protected cultural sites, and wetlands. If the proposed action is not included in the description provided in the CE established by the agency, or there are extraordinary circumstances, the agency must prepare an EA or an EIS, or develop a new proposal that may qualify for application of a CE.
Preparation of an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact
The purpose of an EA is to determine the significance of the environmental effects and to look at alternative means to achieve the agency's objectives. The EA is intended to be a concise document that (1) briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an EIS; (2) aids an agency's compliance with NEPA when no environmental impact statement is necessary; and (3) facilitates preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement when one is necessary (40 C.F.R. § 1508.9). If after investigation and drafting of the environmental assessment no substantial effects on the environment are found the agency may produce a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement
The EIS is a more detailed evaluation of the environmental impacts when compared to the content of the environmental assessment. The crafting of EIS has many components including public, outside party and other federal agency input concerning the preparation of the EIS. These groups subsequently comment on the draft EIS.
In some circumstance an agency may wish to undertake the construction of an EIS without the initial drafting of the environmental assessment. This will take place under circumstances in which the agency believes that the action will undoubtedly have adverse effects on the environment or is considered an environmentally controversial issue.
Making NEPA Projects Operational
The essential purpose of NEPA is to ensure that environmental factors are weighted equally when compared to other factors in the decision making process undertaken by federal agencies. The act establishes the national environmental policy, including a multidisciplinary approach to considering environmental effects in federal government agency decision making. The act also established the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ was established to advise the President in the preparation of an annual environmental quality report addressing the state of federal agencies in implementing the act, on national policies nurture and promote the improvement of the environments quality and on the state of the environment. The effectiveness of NEPA originates in its requirement of federal agencies to prepare an environmental statement to accompany reports and recommendations for funding from Congress. This document is called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NEPA is an action-forcing piece of legislation, meaning that the act itself does not carry any criminal or civil sanctions. All enforcement of NEPA was to be obtained through the process of the court system.
A major federal action has been expanded to include most things that a federal agency could prohibit or regulate. In practice, a project is required to meet NEPA guidelines when a federal agency provides any portion of the financing for the project. Sometimes, however, review of a project by a federal employee can be viewed as a federal action and would then, therefore, require NEPA-compliant analysis be performed.
NEPA covers a vast array of federal agency actions, but not all actions are necessarily covered under NEPA. The act does not apply to purely private or purely public state action. This means that there is a complete absence of government influence or funding concerning that specific action. Exemptions and exclusions are also present within NEPA's guidelines. Exemptions from NEPA include specific federal projects detailed in legislation, EPA exemptions and functional equivalent exemptions. Functional Equivalent exemptions apply where compliance with other environmental laws requires environmental analysis similar to NEPA. These other environmental laws can include but are not limited to the Clean Air
The NEPA compliance is required when federal money is committed to a land management action and it has the potential to impact the environment.
At Kamiak Environmental, we offer a specialized NEPA compliance assistance service. We have the ability to develop your actions in natural resource management, such as salmon restoration activities, wildfire mitigation through fuel treatments, forest management activities to achieve economic optimality, and other actions, while we navigate the NEPA compliance development of an Environmental Impact Statement.
In one example of a project, we ushered the NEPA Compliance efforts to involve three different federal agencies, the departments of a state, two counties, and an Indian Nation to complete a programmatic EA reaching a 25 year planning horizon, for salmon restoration. The planning team was represented by 60 individuals from tribal, federal, and state agencies, departments, elected officials (state and federal representatives), scientists, and specialists from many resource backgrounds. In this example, we completed the planning effort, including the signed completion of the FONSI, within five months from program implementation.
In other examples we have provided NEPA Compliance for wildfire mitigation efforts, river restoration associated with levee removal, and several forest management related activities involving federal funding. The tools we use to make the process streamlined include interactive planning committee website information transfer including interactive maps, committee access limited FTP sites for data transfer, online meeting protocols, and just plain diligent, and hard work. When we join your effort, we make a commitment to making the results come to completion.
We get the job done!