The National Environmental Policy Act (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.
NEPA Environmental Review Process
The first step in the NEPA environmental review process is to identify the proposed action. Then you must determine if the action is statutorily excluded from NEPA. Next, determine the level of NEPA Review. The levels of NEPA review are:
- Categorical Exclusion (CATEX)
- Environmental Assessment (EA)
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
If the project can be statutorily excluded (STATEX), then you must still comply with all other environmental laws and executive orders.
If the proposed action cannot be statutorily excluded, then can it be categorically excluded (CATEX)? If the proposed action can be categorically excluded, then you must determine if there are extraordinary circumstances. If no extraordinary circumstances exist, then there is an administrative record and an agency action occurs. If extraordinary circumstances do exist, then you must do an environmental assessment (EA).
If an environmental assessment (EA) must be written, then you have to determine if there are going to be significant impacts or controversy involved in the proposed action. If no significant impacts or controversy exist, then the EA is written with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and agency action occurs. If significant impacts or controversy exist then you must do an environmental impact statement (EIS).
If an environmental impact statement must be written, then a record of decision (ROD) is the outcome. This ROD is documented and agency action occurs.
About the National Environmental Policy Act
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 aesthetically 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 agency-specific procedures for NEPA implementation are detailed in FEMA Directive 108-1 & companion instruction, and tier off of DHS Directive 023-01, Rev 01 & companion instruction and the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations at 40 CFR Part 1500-1508.