Description and Intent
In 1969, Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in response to public concern about the deteriorating quality of the "human" environment and the inadequate consideration of environmental impacts of major federal projects. The human environment encompasses the following areas: physical (geology, soils, air, water), biological (plants, animals), social (communities, economics), and cultural (archaeological and historic resources). The intent of NEPA is to ensure safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings. NEPA helps federal agencies incorporate these values into their programs by requiring them to give equal consideration to environmental factors, in addition to financial and technical factors, in their planning and decision-making processes.
NEPA establishes a national policy for the protection and maintenance of the environment by providing a process which all federal agencies must follow. The Act called for the creation of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ in turn created regulations for implementing NEPA. Because NEPA is a procedural law, CEQ requires each federal agency, including FEMA, to write their own NEPA compliance regulations to fit their particular programs.
FEMA's Regulations at 44 CFR Part 10, the Department of Homeland Security's Managment Directive 5100.1, and the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations at 40 CFR Part 1500-1508 implement the NEPA requirements for FEMA.
Summary of Requirements
NEPA directs federal agencies to thoroughly assess the environmental consequences of "major federal actions significantly affecting the environment." Before FEMA can fund or implement an action that may effect the environment, agency decision-makers must study the potential impacts that the proposed action and alternatives will have on the human and natural environment, and make that information available to the public. Because different actions may not have similar, significant effects on the environment, there are differing levels of review under NEPA: