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Recreation Advocate

The OutdoorWire family websites feature news and information affecting outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands. 

NEPA - The Basics

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assures that federal agencies will consider the impact of an action on the human environment before decisions are made and the action is taken. It requires that NEPA documents concentrate on issues that are significant to the action in question. The NEPA process is intended to help public officials make better decisions based on an understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore, and enhance the human environment.

The LAW: The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (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”).

In accordance with the NEPA Process, the agency conducts an interdisciplinary review of the environmental effects of the proposal so that the relevant environmental information is available to citizens and public officials. The review of the environmental effects of a proposed action can take one of the following four forms:

CATEGORICAL EXCLUSIONS (CX) - These types of proposed activities do not individually or cumulatively have significant environmental effects and may be exempt from requirements to prepare an environmental analysis. These actions are not included in the online registers.

DOCUMENTATION OF NEPA ADEQUACY (DNA) - A Documentation of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) identifies previously prepared NEPA documents which adequately describe the environmental consequences of a newly proposed action. In most cases, a DNA is prepared without additional public involvement

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENTS (EA) - An EA is prepared to determine if a proposed action or alternative will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. If the impacts are determined to be insignificant, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is prepared and is made a part of the decision. If the impacts are determined to be significant, the proposed action may be rejected, modified, or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) may be prepared. Public involvement activities for an EA range from notifying those directly affected by the proposed action to providing review drafts for public comment and conducting workshops and meetings.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS (EIS) - Major federal actions that may significantly affect the human environment require that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared. The EIS process includes a formal public involvement process.


All federal agencies encourage the public to get involved in the planning process to help determine how public lands will be managed. Involvement by everyone with an interest in public lands will help ensure the best possible plan is developed and future uses of public lands are well defined. You may participate in any of the on-going planning efforts listed a federal agency. If you have questions or would like to submit comments on a particular project, or if you wish to be on a plan mailing list, contact the appropriate agency office.

For additional information on NEPA, see: NEPA Explained - http://www.4x4voice.com/index.php/civics-101/34-nepa/103-nepa-explained

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