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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.

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970 (although passed by Congress at the end of 1969), the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and is generally considered to be the nation's first modern environmental statute. The intent of Congress was to create the CEQ and "to declare a 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; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation." Under the procedural requirements of NEPA, federal governmental agencies are required to "use all practicable means" in order to achieve any of six environmental goals of serving as a trustee of the environment for future generations; assuring all Americans a safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing environment; make the most use of the environment without damaging or degrading it; preserving aspects of our national heritage; achieving a balance between population and use of resources that will permit a high standard of living; and enhance the quality of renewable resources and recycle depleted resources. 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). The preparation of either of these documents does not guarantee any particular result except that the agency must truly analyze the proposed action and its consequences before taking any action and make attempts to mitigate damage to the environment if possible. The Energy Department maintains a list of states that are known as "Little NEPAs" since they have enacted separate state statutes requiring environmental planning like NEPA does. As of 2018, there are 17 states, the District of Columbia, 2 Territories, and New York City on the list.

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