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National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The following text has been excerpted in part from the Dixie National Forest Guide to Public Involvement publicly accessible on the DNF website.

NEPA is an acronym for the National Environmental Policy Act, 1969. All federal actions require NEPA procedural analysis with the exception of categorical exclusions. NEPA is purely procedural.  It does not require a specific outcome.  A NEPA analysis is a public disclosure process of the environmental consequences if a project were implemented. NEPA is a procedural law and as such requires that the Proposed Action be Scoped or made known to the public. It also requires that the agency and the public help to define Significant Issues (legitimate conflicts with the proposed action). Alternatives are modifications made to the Proposed Action and are designed to resolve a significant issue(s). Environmental Consequences are specifically what would happen to the environment (social, physical, and biological) if the Proposed Action or an Alternative to the Proposed Action were implemented. For additional information see the Council for Environmental Quality and Forty Most Frequently Asked NEPA Questions. .

The Components of a NEPA Analysis

Purpose and Need for Action

The difference between the existing resource condition(s) and the desired resource condition(s) as identified during the NFMA analysis.

Proposed Action

Specific management action(s) prescribed to move the resource(s) from the existing condition(s) to the desired condition(s). This is an end-product of the NFMA analysis.

Scoping

Scoping is an integral part of the environmental analysis. It requires examining a proposed action; identifying the breadth its possible effects; establishing the depth of environmental analysis needed; determining analysis procedures, data needed, and task assignments. The public is encouraged to participate and submit comments on proposed projects during the scoping period. Usually there is a date associated with the end or closure of the scoping period. It is that date which responses to the formal scoping statement are due; this is usually 30 days after release of the scoping statement. Especially valuable at this early stage are concerns regarding potential environmental impacts of a proposed actions and identification of issues not listed in the agency scoping document.

Significant Issues

These are the legitimate conflicts with the Proposed Action that result in the development of alternatives to the Proposed Action.

Alternatives to the Proposed Action

Modifications of the Proposed Action designed to resolve a significant issue(s). For example, changes in the location of prescribed activities, intensity of activities, mitigation measures applied to activities, different methods of treatment, etc.

Environmental Effects

Specifically, what would happen to the environment (social and biological) if the Proposed Action, or an Alternative to the Proposed Action, were implemented?

NEPA Terminology

Categorical Exclusion (CE)

A number of categories of action have been determined from prior experience and analysis to result in no significant impact to the environment. If a proposed action falls into one of these categories, and if no extraordinary circumstances exist which might cause a significant impact in the specific case, these actions can be “categorically excluded” from documentation in an EA or EIS. Unlike an EA or EIS, there is no formal pre-decision comment period with a categorical exclusion (except for scoping). Examples of categorical exclusions are road work, some small timber sales, trail maintenance, etc.

Decision Notice (DN)

When an Environmental Assessment (EA) is conducted and it is concluded that no significant environmental impact will result from implementing the preferred alternative, a Decision Notice is issued. If a significant environmental impact will result, an EIS must be prepared, and a Record of Decision is issued. Decisions documented in a Decision Notice are subject to administrative appeal unless there has been no expression of public interest in the action.

Decision Memo (DM)

This type of decision is used when the environmental analysis has been “categorically excluded” (CE) from documentation in an EA or an EIS. Ordinarily, decisions documented in a Decision Memo are not subject to administrative appeal; the exception is the category of small timber sales (unless there has been no expression of public interest in the sale).

Environmental Assessment (EA)

This document discloses the environmental impacts to be expected from the proposed action and from specific alternatives to the proposed action. An EA is prepared when significant environmental impacts are not anticipated or when there is a question as to the extent of the impacts. Your comments are requested within 30 days of release of an EA. Your comments are considered prior to making the final decision and are responded to in an appendix to the EA.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

A formal public document prepared to analyze the impacts on the environment of a proposed project or action and released for comment and review. An EIS is prepared, instead of an EA, when significant environmental impacts are anticipated. Your comments are requested within 45 days after the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Your comments are considered prior to making the final decision and are responded to in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

Legal Notice

A notice of an appeal decision published in the Federal Register or in the legal notices section of a newspaper or general circulation as required by 36 CFR 217.2

Notice of Intent (NOI)

A notice printed in the Federal Register announcing that an “Environmental Impact Statement” will be prepared. (40 CFR 1508.22)

Record of Decision (ROD)

This type of decision is used when an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been produced. Decisions documented in a Record Of Decision are subject to administrative appeal.

Scope

Scope consists of the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be considered in an environmental document (either EA or EIS).

For More NEPA Information

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) - NEPA Site provides valuable information on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) including a NEPA Task Force report. There is also a NEPA Review Forum designed to foster the exchange of information and ideas related to the NEPA process over the last 25 years. The US Forest Service NEPA page also contains valuable information.

US Forest Service Appeals Process

Land management decisions on National Forest Service lands require NEPA analysis. These decisions can be challenged through an appeals process. For more information visit the US Forest Service Appeals and Litigation site. The US Forest Service also provides an Eco-Watch website for tracking environmental policy and land management practices on National Forests.

National Forest Management Act (NFMA)

The National Forest Management Act, 1976 (NFMA) requires National Forests to draft standards and guidelines for the management of individual units of National Forests. These standards and guidelines are referred to as Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP) otherwise known as the Forest Plan. A NFMA analysis uses the Forest Plan to develop a Proposed Action by comparing the existing condition to a desired future condition for a resource or an area of the forest. Opportunities to move the existing condition to the desired condition are identified and possible management practices to effect the change in existing condition to desired condition are listed and checked for consistency with law including forest plan, regulation or policy. The culmination of a NFMA Analysis is a Proposed Action. A NFMA Analysis does not make programmatic or project specific resource commitments. For more information see "The Components of a NFMA Analysis".