The Environmental Law That You Should Care About
After decades of industrial growth during the late 1800s and early-mid 1900s, a newfound appreciation for nature spawned.
The 1960s saw a substantial increase in the influence of environmental interest groups which would result in important laws being passed, such as the Wilderness Act (1964), Clean Air Act (1970), and Clean Water Act (1972).
But perhaps the most significant law enacted was the National Environmental Protection Act in 1970, which has since helped protect the nation’s diverse ecosystems and human well-being.
What is NEPA?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is an environmental law that requires that Federal agencies prepare Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) prior to proposed actions. These assessments are intended to force federal agencies into considering the potential environmental consequences of actions before they occur.
In 42 US Code § 4321, the purpose clause of NEPA, it states the following:
“…national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man…”
An EA is produced to determine if there is a chance of significant environmental impact due to an action. EAs must state the purpose of an action, alternatives considered, environmental impacts, and list the names of agencies and people consulted.
In the case that an EA does consider an action to pose a significant environmental impact, an EIS will be compiled. An EIS will be written in a similar manner to an EA, but the requirements will be more extensive as the potential consequences of the proposed action are greater.
NEPA acts as a federal-based law and is not applicable to state projects where federal influence or funding is not a factor.
These analyses are additionally mandated to include their environmental impact toward minority and low-income groups who have historically faced the brunt of environmental issues.
NEPA established the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), an executive branch that advises the president and creates guidelines on laws and procedures.
NEPA relies on three main principles:
- Transparency: Guarantees that the government must disclose its actions and their impact.
- Informed Decision-Making: Guarantees that the government has done a thorough analysis prior to taking action.
- Giving The Public A Voice: Guarantees that the government must consult with the local community during their research.
Through NEPA, government agencies are forced to do their due diligence, show how their plans impact the environment and receive approval from local communities.
Failure to obey NEPA rules can damage reputations and reduce future funding to the offending agency. Violations of NEPA may also open up an agency to lawsuits; these legal matters would take place through the court system as NEPA has no authoritative powers.
Value of NEPA
Before NEPA, federal agencies set up projects without considering environmental impacts, which meant that any new infrastructure project could damage ecosystems and pollute the air without any consequences.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, states the following about the importance of NEPA:
“When the government wants to build a toxic waste incinerator in your neighborhood, run a dangerous pipeline past your child’s school, or put a massive, costly freeway on top of a wetland, federal law gives you the right to find out and fight back.
That law is the National Environmental Policy Act.”
Since 1970, The National Environmental Policy Act has acted as the single line of defense against federal mismanagement of the environment. It is a response to protect communities, preserve lands, and save tax dollars.
NEPA is commonly considered the “Magna Carta” of federal environmental laws.
Other laws around the 1960s and 1970s have helped establish better conservation laws and water and air management laws, but none have made the immense impact of NEPA.
Unfortunately, this essential law has come under attack in recent years, but with plenty of pushback to protect it, it may stay secure to protect us and the planet for many more years to come.
This article was brought to you by The Earth Store, an eCommerce business that sells bamboo toothbrushes and donates a portion of profits toward environmental organizations to help create a safer world for tomorrow. Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to receive more content on climate change and the environment.