NEPA: National Environmental Policy Act

July 26, 2012

Why was it created?

It ensures that environmental factors are considered in all decisions made by Federal agencies.  It helps to lessen the threat to human health, and prevents long-term permanent harm to the environment.

If it only applies to Federal agencies, why do companies like Donlin Gold need to apply the NEPA process?

Sometimes private companies will need to be involved in the NEPA process if they need a permit issued from a Federal agency.  When that company applies for the permit, the agency will have to evaluate the environmental effects of the permit decision under NEPA.  

What is the NEPA Process and when can you get involved?

The NEPA process begins with a proposal to address a certain need to take action.  It could be something the agency identifies as a need or it may be a need brought to it by someone outside of the agency, like an applicant for a permit.  Once the proposed action is developed, the agency will determine which path it will take – 

Categorical Exclusion (CE)
Environmental Assessment (EA) 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

The three different paths are explained below –

Categorical Exclusions (CEs) 
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 Examples could include administrative procedures, facility renovations, or reconstruction of hiking trails on public lands. 
In these cases, the draft agency procedures are published in the Federal Register, and a public comment period is required. Participation in these comment periods is an important way to be involved in the development of a CE.

Environmental Assessments (EA) 
The purpose of an EA is to determine the significance of the environmental effects and to look at alternative ways to achieve the same goal. 
An EA should include brief discussions of: the need for the proposal, alternative courses of action, the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, and listing of agencies and persons involved.

When preparing an EA, the agency has discretion as to the level of
public involvement.   
Sometimes agencies will choose to do the same public comment periods as they exist in the EIS process. In other situations, agencies make the EA and a draft FONSI available to interested members of the public.

At the end of the EA process, they agency will either have to proceed to prepare an EIS or they will conclude that there were no significant environmental impacts upon implementation of the proposed action and issue a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact).

The agency will only be required to make the FONSI available for public review if the proposed action has never been done before or if the action is something that would typically require an EIS under NEPA procedures for that agency.

The FONSI is usually published in the FederalRegister, and the notice of availability of the FONSI will include information on how and where to provide your comments. If the requirement for a 30 day review is not triggered the FONSI often will not be published in the Federal Register. It may be posted on the agency’s website, published in local newspapers or made available in some other manner. If you are interested in a particular action that is the subject of an EA, you should find out from the agency how it will make the FONSI available.

Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) 
A Federal agency must prepare an EIS if it is proposing a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. The regulatory requirements for an EIS are more detailed than the two alternate routes.

Included in the EIS Process are the following steps & documents:

Notice of Intent

The EIS process begins with publication of a Notice of Intent (NOI),
stating the agency’s intent to prepare an EIS for a particular proposal.
The NOI is published in the Federal Register, and provides a brief description of the proposed action and possible alternatives. It also 
includes any meetings and how the public can get involved. The
NOI will also contain an agency point of contact who can answer
questions about the proposed action and the NEPA process. 

Draft EIS 
A draft EIS is the next major step that can involve public input. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register informing the public that the draft is available for comment.  The EPA notices are also available at
The comment period is at least 45 days long;

Final EIS
When the public comment period is finished, the agency analyzes
comments, conducts further analysis as necessary, and prepares the
final EIS. In the final EIS, the agency must respond to the substantive
comments received. The response can be in the form of changes in the final EIS, factual corrections, modifications to the analyses or the alternatives, new alternatives considered, or an explanation of why a comment does not require the agency’s response. 
A copy or a summary of substantive comments and the response to them will be included in the final EIS.
When it is ready, the agency will publish the final EIS and EPA will
publish a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. A minimum of 30 days must pass before the agency can make a
decision on their proposed action. This provides time for the agency decisionmaker to consider the purpose and need, weigh the alternatives, balance their objectives, and make a decision.

Record of Decision (ROD)
The ROD is the final step in the EIS process. The ROD is
a document that states what the decision is and identifies the alternatives
considered. In the ROD, the agency discusses all the factors that were contemplated when it reached its decision on whether to, and if so how to, proceed with the proposed action. 
The ROD is a publicly available document. Sometimes RODs are published in the Federal Register or on the agency’s website, but if you are interestedin receiving the ROD you should ask the agency’s point of contact for the EIS how to obtain a copy of the ROD.

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