The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. The Act establishes national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and it provides a process for implementing these goals within the federal agencies. NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposals, to consult with other interested agencies, to document the analysis, and to make this information available to the public for comment before the implementation of the proposals.
NEPA is only applicable to federal actions, including projects and programs entirely or partially financed by federal agencies and that require a federal permit or other regulatory decision. Activities that do not require a commitment of federal funds, such as approvals of access controls (e.g., a new interchange) or approval of an airport layout plan, are also federal actions. NEPA does not apply when actions by a state or local government or private entity do not require federal review. In addition, agency inaction, or refusal to take action, is not an action that is subject to NEPA.
While NEPA established the basic framework for integrating environmental considerations into Federal decisionmaking, it did not provide the details of the process for which it would be accomplished. Federal implementation of NEPA became the charge of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which interpreted the law and addressed NEPA's action-forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance. In 1978, CEQ issued Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR §§ 1500 -1508). Since that time, CEQ has issued additional guidance and other information covering a variety of issues relevant to the NEPA process. This information is available at NEPA.gov.
To address the NEPA responsibilities established by CEQ, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued regulations (23 CFR § 771), Environmental Impact and Related Procedures. The FHWA guidance complementing the regulations was issued in the form of a Technical Advisory (T.6640.8A), Guidance for Preparing and Processing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents. The Technical Advisory provides detailed information on the contents and processing of environmental documents. Additional guidance and information on the NEPA process and other environmental requirements are found in the FHWA Environmental Review Toolkit.
For more information on transportation project delivery and environmental streamlining, please link to Project Delivery/Streamlining section of this website.