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Laws & Executive Orders

This page presents information on Federal Environmental Laws and Executive orders applicable to FEMA's actions.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (PL91-190), or 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:

  1. The federal agency has considered the effects of their action (any action involving federal funding or assistance) on the environment BEFORE deciding to fund and implement a proposed action.
  2. Environmental information is made available to other public officials and citizens before agency decisions are made and before actions are taken.

National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as amended (1992)

  • The 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.
  • For a complete list of resources and links related to the NHPA, go to FEMA's Historic Preservation and Cultural Resources Program site.

Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (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.

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.

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.

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.

Wilderness Act (WA)

The WA 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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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

Executive Order 12898, Environmental Justice for Low Income and Minority Population, 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 and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States."

Last Updated: 
08/15/2016 - 14:55