Understanding the National Environmental Policy Act

Olivia Guethling

What is the National Environmental Policy Act?

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is the federal law that requires federal agencies to plan carefully for conservation and management of our public lands and natural resources and involve the public in every step of the process.

Among conservation organizations, the act commonly known as NEPA (pronounced “NEEP-ah”) provides opportunities to submit scientific research and data and other relevant information to agencies to ensure that planning considers all potential impacts of proposed management actions on the environment.

Thank you, flower children!

President Nixon signed NEPA into law following the post-war era uptick of industrialization and unregulated pollution. Like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other bedrock environmental laws of the era, NEPA was designed to support planning for a clean and healthy environment in response to a growing cultural awareness of the environment and its importance for individuals and communities.

Congress recognized that nearly all federal activities affect the environment in some way, and, in enacting NEPA, it mandated federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of their proposed actions in planning and decision-making processes.

Managing for multiple use

NEPA is essential to proper management of public lands, waters and wildlife. While the law doesn’t dictate what is or isn’t allowed in managing these resources, it does require federal agencies to consider a breadth of management alternatives before settling on a final decision—and involve the public in every phase of the decision-making.

Many ONDA members will remember the threat posed by inappropriate wind energy development on Steens Mountain years ago. ONDA successfully prevented agencies from finalizing that poorly conceived project through active participation in the NEPA process. Volunteers, staff and experts provided credible scientific information and personal experience to the Bureau of Land Management about why wind turbines on Steens were a bad idea. In the end, the decision to permit those turbines was invalidated so that iconic Steens Mountain and its important wildlife habitat remain intact. All of that was possible because of NEPA and its associated regulations.

Involving the Public

In addition to directing federal agencies to plan carefully for conservation and management of our public lands and natural resources, NEPA requires the agencies to involve the public in every phase of the process. This often entails holding public meetings to discuss proposed plans and their potential impacts as well as accepting substantive comments from the public.

 

voices

Cregg Large, member since 2009

Cregg Large, member since 2009

“I came to Oregon 12 years ago from Texas. Texas, for all its size, has very little public land. Coming to Oregon has made me realize the special gift we as Americans have in our public lands. Volunteering with an organization like ONDA is my way of reciprocating for this gift. Through restoration efforts, I feel we are helping leave a better place than we found it. Through advocating for protection for public lands, we safeguard migration routes for animals and keep the land where it belongs: with the public.”

fact

Bitteroot

Bitteroot

Bitteroot blooms on north-facing cliffs in western North America.

The Paiute name for bitteroot is kangedya. Traditional Native American uses of the plant included eating the roots, mixed with berries and meat, and using the roots to treat sore throats.

 

voices

Tim Neville, journalist

Tim Neville, journalist

“Oregon’s Owyhee reminds me a lot of Southern Utah’s red rock country… only dipped in fudge.”