National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
LAW: The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). NEPA establishes a public, interdisciplinary framework for Federal decision-making and ensures that agencies (BLM and all other agencies) take environmental factors into account when considering Federal actions. NEPA does not mandate protection of the environment. Instead, it requires agencies to follow a particular process in making decisions and to disclose the information/data that was used to support those decisions.
 

NEPA mandates that each agency develop procedures for implementing the basic NEPA requirements. The agencies’ procedures are adopted as federal regulations after input from the public and approval of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Agencies can also develop policy to complement their regulations.
 
NEPA requires agencies to follow a three-step review process:
  1. Conduct a preliminary screening for NEPA’s applicability (NEPA is not required for proposed actions that are considered “categorical exclusions,” for example);
  2. Prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required; and
  3. Prepare an EIS if required (an EIS is required if a proposed action may “significantly affect the quality of the human environment”).
For BLM, developing or revising an RMP automatically requires an EIS. Amending an RMP requires an EA, and may or may not require an EIS.

REGULATION: 40 CFR 1500-1508. The Council on Environmental Quality developed these regulations to complement and implement NEPA. Key points from the regulations include the following:

  • Agencies must integrate NEPA into their planning processes as early as possible
  • EISs must highlight reasonable alternatives that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the environment. They are used to inform decisions – not to justify already-made decisions.
  • The format for EISs should include the following:
    • Cover
    • Summary
    • Purpose and need
    • Alternatives including the proposed action
    • Affected environment
    • Environmental consequences (of each alternative)
    • Appendix
  • Agencies must solicit comments on draft EISs
  • The Environmental Protection Agency reviews all EISs
  • Agencies must prepare a “Record of Decision” for all EISs. In part, this document states decisions and the alternatives considered (including specifying the environmentally-preferable alternative).
POLICY: The NEPA Handbook (H-1790-1). BLM issued this handbook to provide instructions for complying with the CEQ NEPA regulations. The handbook describes the following process for completing a decision in accordance with NEPA:
  1. Scoping the EIS
    1. Publish a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register
    2. Develop a preparation plan
    3. Develop a strategy for public involvement and interagency/intergovernmental coordination and consultation
    4. Define the proposed action
    5. Identify the purpose and need, alternatives to be considered and impacts to be analyzed
    6. Identify information and data needs
    7. Identify cooperating agencies
    8. Determine contracting needs
    9. Determine staffing and budget needs and proposed schedule
  2. Conduct the analysis and prepare the Draft EIS
    1. Conduct the analysis
    2. Select the preferred alternative
    3. Prepare a Preliminary Draft EIS
    4. Complete the Draft EIS
  3. Issue the Draft EIS
    1. Print the Draft EIS
    2. File with EPA
    3. Publish a Notice of Availability of the Draft EIS for review
    4. Distribute the Draft EIS
    5. Hold public meetings/hearings
  4. Analyze comments and prepare the Final EIS
    1. Evaluate and respond to public comments
    2. Prepare a Preliminary Final EIS
    3. Reevaluate and revise the preferred alternative or proposed action
  5. Issue the Final EIS (publish an NOA if actions have effects of national concern)
  6. Reach and record the decision
    1. Evaluate public comments
    2. Document the decision
    3. Publish an NOA regarding the availability of the Record of Decision