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National Environmental Policy Act Legal Research: Overview

A legal resource guide for information relating to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) including primary and secondary source materials, quick links, and database resources.

Overview

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) [1] created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) [2] and is generally considered to be the nation's first modern environmental statute [3].  Under the procedural requirements of NEPA [4], federal governmental agencies are required to "use all practicable means" in order to achieve any of six environmental goals including: "approaching maximum attainable recycling, preserving cultural heritage, and achieving a balance between population and resource use." [5].  In order to comply with NEPA's requirements federal agencies in the context of proposed "major federal actions" must prepare either an Environmental Assessment [EA] or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) [6].  The preparation of either of these documents does not guarantee any particular result except "that the agency take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences before taking a major action" [7].  At present, fifteen states have enacted "Little NEPA" statutes that almost exactly mirror the EIS procedures of the federal Act [8].

[1] National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Pub. L. No. 91-190, 83 Stat. 852 (1970).
[3] Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project v. Blackwood, 161 F.3d 1208, 1215 (9th Cir. 1998) (describing NEPA as the “national charter for protection of the environment.”)
[4] Since the case of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519 (1978), NEPA has been interpreted as operating as a procedural statute. 
[5] William H. Rodgers, Jr. Environmental Law 802 (2d ed. 1994) (paraphrasing the six objectives set forth in National Environmental Policy Act of 1969§ 101(b), 42 U.S.C. § 4331(b) (2006))
[6] Council on Envtl. Quality, A Citizen's Guide to the NEPA 5 (2007).
[8] David Sive & Mark A. Chertok, ALI-ABA: Environmental Litigation, Little NEPA's and the Environmenta; Impact Assessment Procedures 25-26 (2005). See also Nicholas A. Robinson, SEQRA's Siblings: Precedents from Little NEPA's in the Sister States, 46 Albany L. Rev. 1155, 1157 (1982) (discussing New York State's Environmental Quality Review Act) (discussing the 28 jurisdictions that have adapted the provisions of NEPA to their specific state's requirements).

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Contact Information

This research guide is currently maintained by Gail Whittemore and Cynthia Pittson.