The national commitment to the environment was formalized through the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. NEPA establishes a national environmental policy and provides a framework for environmental planning and decisionmaking by Federal agencies. NEPA directs Federal agencies, when planning projects or issuing permits, to conduct environmental reviews to consider the potential impacts on the environment by their proposed actions.
NEPA established a supplemental mandate for Federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposals, document the analysis, and make this information available to the public for comment prior to implementation. The environmental protection policy established in NEPA, Section 101, is supported by a set of "action forcing" provisions in Section 102 that form the basic framework for Federal decisionmaking and the NEPA process.
While NEPA established the basic framework for integrating environmental considerations into Federal decisionmaking, it did not provide the details of the process for which it would be accomplished. Federal implementation of NEPA is the charge of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which interpreted the law and addressed NEPA’s action forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance.
FHWA and NEPA
NEPA requires, to the fullest extent possible, that the policies, regulations, and laws of the Federal Government be interpreted and administered in accordance with its environmental protection goals. Environmental reviews involve an interdisciplinary and interagency process. The lead Federal agency works cooperatively with other Federal and state agencies during the environmental review process. This coordinated review process includes input from the public, as well as from other agencies, to guarantee that all environmental protections, as well as all other issues are addressed.
FHWA is committed to, and required by NEPA to, the examination and avoidance of potential impacts to the social and natural environment when considering approval of proposed transportation projects. In addition to evaluating the potential environmental effects, FHWA must also take into account the transportation needs of the public in reaching a decision that is in the best overall public interest. The FHWA NEPA project development process is an approach to balanced transportation decisionmaking that considers those potential impacts.
It is FHWA policy (23 CFR § 771.105) that:
- To the maximum extent practicable and consistent with Federal law, all environmental investigations, reviews, and consultations be coordinated as a single process, and compliance with all applicable environmental requirements be reflected in the environmental review document required by this part. (FHWA, FRA, and FTA have supplementary guidance on environmental documents and procedures for their programs available on the internet at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov, http://www.fra.dot.gov, and http://www.fta.dot.gov, or in hardcopy by request.)
- Programmatic approaches be developed for compliance with environmental requirements (including the requirements found at 23 U.S.C. 139(b)(3)), coordination among agencies and/or the public, or to otherwise enhance and accelerate project development.
- Alternative courses of action be evaluated and decisions be made in the best overall public interest based upon a balanced consideration of the need for safe and efficient transportation; of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the proposed transportation improvement; and of national, State, and local environmental protection goals.
- Public involvement and a systematic interdisciplinary approach be essential parts of the development process for proposed actions.
- Measures necessary to mitigate adverse impacts be incorporated into the action. Measures necessary to mitigate adverse impacts are eligible for Federal funding when the Administration determines that:
- The impacts for which the mitigation is proposed actually result from the Administration action; and
- The proposed mitigation represents a reasonable public expenditure after considering the impacts of the action and the benefits of the proposed mitigation measures. In making this determination, the Administration will consider, among other factors, the extent to which the proposed measures would assist in complying with a Federal statute, executive order, or Administration regulation or policy.
- Costs incurred by the applicant for the preparation of environmental documents requested by the Administration be eligible for Federal assistance.
- No person, because of handicap, age, race, color, sex, or national origin, be excluded from participating in, or denied benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any Administration program or procedural activity required by or developed pursuant to this part.