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Descriptions of All Policies

This page presents information on federal environmental laws and executive orders applicable to FEMA's actions.


American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA)

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) protects and preserves for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites. Learn more at

Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (AHPA)

The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act provides for the preservation of cultural resources that may be damaged by federal or federally authorized construction activities. It also requires that the Secretary of Interior be notified when unanticipated archeological materials are discovered during construction of a federal undertaking. Learn more at

Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) was enacted to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands, and to foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities, the professional archaeological community, and private individuals. Learn more at

Clean Air Act (CAA)

The Clean Air Act is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from area, stationary and mobile sources. This law authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and the environment. The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act in large part were intended to meet unaddressed or insufficiently addressed problems such as acid rain, ground-level ozone, stratospheric ozone depletion and air toxics. Learn more at

Clean Water Act (CWA), 1948 as amended 1966, 1972, Section 10 Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA), 1899

The legislative origins of the Department of the Army regulatory program are the Rivers and Harbors Acts of 1890 and 1899. Various sections establish permit requirements to prevent unauthorized obstruction or alteration of any navigable water of the United States. The most frequently exercised authority is contained in Section 10 (33 U.S.C. 403), which covers construction, excavation or deposition of materials in, over or under such waters or any work that would affect the course, location, condition or capacity of those waters. Actions requiring Section 10 permits include structures (e.g. piers, wharfs, breakwaters, bulkheads, jetties, weirs, transmission lines) and works such as dredging or disposal of dredged material or excavation, filling or other modification to the navigable waters of the United States. The Coast Guard also has responsibility for permitting the erection or modification of bridges over navigable waters of the U.S.

In 1972, amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act added what is commonly called Section 404 authority (33 U.S.C. 1344) to the regulatory program. The Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, is authorized to issue permits, after notice of opportunity for public hearings, for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States. The Federal Water Pollution Act was amended and given the common name of the Clean Water Act. Learn more at

Summary of Permits for Clean Water Act / Rivers & Harbors Act

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)

Congress passed the the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) in 1972 to manage the nation’s coastal resources, including the Great Lakes. The goal is to “preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation’s coastal zone.” Learn more at

Coastal Barriers Resources Act (CBRA)

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 and subsequent amendments were enacted to remove the federal incentive to develop designated relatively undeveloped coastal barriers along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico coasts as part of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS), and made these areas ineligible for most new federal expenditures and financial assistance. Learn more at

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

The purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to ensure that federal agencies and departments use their authorities to protect and conserve endangered and threatened species. Section 7 of the Act requires that federal agencies prevent or modify any projects authorized, funded or carried out by the agencies that are "likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat of such species."

Under Sections 9 and 20 of the Act, non-federal entities, governments and private citizens, even without involvement of a federal agency, also must avoid adversely affecting threatened or endangered species. Where adverse impacts cannot be avoided state and local governments and private land owners must develop Habitat Conservation Plans in coordination with the US Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Services to reduce conflicts between listed species and development activities and these plans must meet the requirements of Section 10 of the Act. Learn more at

Farmland Protection Act (FPA)

The purpose of this law is to minimize the extent to which federal programs contribute to the unnecessary and irreversible conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses and to assure that federal programs are administered in a manner that, to the extent practicable, will be compatible with state, local and private programs and policies to protect farmland. Learn more at

Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA)

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA), as amended in 1964, was enacted to protect fish and wildlife when federal actions result in control or modification of a natural stream or body of water. The statute requires federal agencies take into consideration the effect that water-related projects would have on fish and wildlife resources and provide for the development and improvement of these resources. Learn more at

National Environmental Policy Act

Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970. NEPA is a federal law that established a national policy for the protection and maintenance of the environment. NEPA provides a broad planning process that requires all federal agencies to ensure that it has considered the effects of their action on the environment and made information available to the public BEFORE deciding to fund and implement a proposed action.

Learn About the NEPA Environmental Review Process

National Historic Preservation Act

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) directs federal agencies to take into account the effect of any undertaking (a federally funding or assisted project) on historic properties. "Historic property" is any district, building, structure, site or object that is eligible for listing on in the National Register of Historic Places because the property is significant at the national, state or local level in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering or culture. Typically, a historic property must be at least 50 years old and retain integrity.

Learn About National Historic Preservation Act Requirements

Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA)

The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act was initially enacted in 1990 to establish the rights of Indian tribes and their descendants to obtain repatriation of certain human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony from federal agencies and museums. Learn more at

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act manages the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. Learn more at

Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA)

The purpose of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) is to preserve the free-flowing state of rivers that are listed in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (System) or under study for inclusion in the System because of their outstanding scenic, recreation, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values. Rivers in the System are classified as wild river areas, scenic river areas or recreational river areas. The WSRA established requirements applicable to water resource projects and protects both the river or river segments and the land immediately surrounding them. Learn more at

Wilderness Act (WA)

The Wilderness Act establishes a system of National Wilderness areas and a method to protect and manage this system. With a few exceptions, this act prohibits motorized equipment, structures, installations, roads, commercial enterprises, aircraft landings and mechanical transport. Learn more at

Executive Orders

Executive Order 11988: Floodplain Management, 1977

Executive Order 11988 requires federal agencies to avoid, to the extent possible, the long and short-term adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains and to avoid direct and indirect support of floodplain development wherever there is a practicable alternative. In accomplishing this objective, "each agency shall provide leadership and shall take action to reduce the risk of flood loss, to minimize the impact of floods on human safety, health and welfare and to restore and preserve the natural and beneficial values served by floodplains in carrying out its responsibilities" for the following actions:

  1. Acquiring, managing and disposing of federal lands and facilities;
  2. Providing federally-undertaken, financed or assisted construction and improvements;
  3. Conducting federal activities and programs affecting land use, including but not limited to water and related land resources planning, regulation and licensing activities.

Executive Order 11990: Protection of Wetlands, 1977

The purpose of this EO is to "minimize the destruction, loss or degradation of wetlands and to preserve and enhance the natural and beneficial values of wetlands." To meet these objectives, the Order requires federal agencies, in planning their actions, to consider alternatives to wetland sites and limit potential damage if an activity affecting a wetland cannot be avoided. The Order applies to:

  • Acquisition, management and disposition of federal lands and facilities construction and improvement projects which are undertaken, financed or assisted by federal agencies;
  • Federal activities and programs affecting land use, including but not limited to water and related land resources planning, regulation and licensing activities.

Summary Of Requirements

The procedures require the determination of whether or not the proposed project will be in or will affect wetlands. If so, a wetlands assessment must be prepared that describes the alternatives considered. The procedures include a requirement for public review of assessments. The evaluation process follows the same 8 steps as for EO 11988, Floodplain Management.

Suggested Information to Aid in Project Review

  • Detailed maps (e.g., US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Wetlands Inventory Maps, etc.) defining wetland boundaries within the project area.
  • Studies and reports (e.g., wetland survey maps and reports, flood elevations and velocities, etc.) documenting the project scope as related to the occupancy and modification of wetlands including direct and indirect effects.
  • Documentation of compliance and consistency with federal, state, tribal, county and local floodplain management programs and plans.
  • Documentation of any Public Notices or public meetings.
  • Documentation of coordination with other agencies (e.g., USACE, National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), State and Local Floodplain Managers, etc.) including studies and reports and recommendations.
  • Tool: US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory

Executive Order 12898: Environmental Justice for Low Income & Minority Populations, 1994

On February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed E.O. 12898. This Executive Order directs federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high adverse human health or environmental effects of its activities on minority and low-income populations.

Summary of Requirements

Each Federal agency must make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, economic and social effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations, particularly when such analysis is required by NEPA. The EO emphasizes the importance of NEPA's public participation process, directing that each Federal agency shall provide opportunities for community input in the NEPA process. Agencies are further directed to identify potential effects and mitigation measures in consultation with affected communities.

The E.O. requires agencies to work to ensure effective public participation and access to information. Thus within its NEPA process and through other appropriate mechanisms, each federal agency should, translate crucial public documents, notices and hearings, relating to human health or the environmental for limited English speaking populations when it is practical and appropriate. Learn more at

Executive Order 13007: Indian Sacred Sites, 1996

Executive Order 13007 directs federal land managing agencies to accommodate access to, and ceremonial use of, Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and to avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites. Learn more at

Executive Order 13690, Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS)

The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is a flood standard that aims to build a more resilient future. As stated in Section 1 of Executive Order 13690, “It is the policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and federal assets against the impacts of flooding. These impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats. Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity, and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security.”

The FFRMS was established to encourage federal agencies to consider and manage current and future flood risks in order to build a more resilient nation. The standard was revoked but then reinstated through Executive Order 14030, Climate-Related Financial Risk, clarifying that the FFRMS as well as the guidelines for floodplain management under Executive Order. 11988 should remain in effect.

It requires agencies to prepare for and protect federally funded buildings and projects from flood risks. More specifically, it requires agencies to determine specific federal building or project dimensions – that is, how high and how wide and how expansive a building or project should be – in order to manage and mitigate any current or potential flood risks. Learn more at

The FFRMS gives flexibility and requires agencies to select one of the three approaches for establishing the flood elevation (“how high”) and corresponding flood hazard area (“how wide”) used for project siting, design and construction:

  • Climate Informed Science Approach (CISA): The elevation and flood hazard area that result from using the best-available, actionable hydrologic and hydraulic data and methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science;
  • Freeboard Value Approach: The elevation and flood hazard area that result from adding an additional 2 feet to the base flood elevation for non-critical actions and by adding an additional 3 feet to the base flood elevation for critical actions; or
  • 500-year Floodplain: The area subject to flooding by the 0.2% -annual-chance flood. This area is also known as the 500-year floodplain.