NEPA and Project Development On January 1, 1970 the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was signed into Law. NEPA established a national environmental policy intentionally focused on Federal activities and the desire for a sustainable environment balanced with other essential needs of present and future generations of Americans.
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 was the charge of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which interpreted the law and addressed NEPAs action forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance.
The Federal Highway Administration (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. NEPA also requires Federal agencies to use an interdisciplinary approach in planning and decisionmaking for any action that adversely impacts the environment.
NEPA requires and FHWA is committed 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, we 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 takes into account the potential impacts on the human and natural environment and the publics need for safe and efficient transportation.
It is FHWAs policy that (23 CFR § 771.105):
- To the fullest extent possible, all environmental investigations, reviews, and consultations be coordinated as a single process, and compliance with all applicable environmental requirements be reflected in the environmental document required by this regulation.
- 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.
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