- What is it?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on Jan. 1, 1970. The purpose of NEPA is to incorporate environmental consideration into Federal agency planning and action. It calls for the evaluation of reasonable alternatives to a proposed action, solicitation of input from those potentially affected, and an unbiased presentation of direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of implementing the proposed action. The NEPA process is the systematic examination of possible and probable environmental consequences of implementing a proposed action. Army leaders use the NEPA process to make more informed decisions.
There are three levels of environmental review of proposed actions.
- A Categorical Exclusion (CX) is for those actions that the Army has determined do not individually or cumulatively have a substantial effect on the human environment. Screening criteria must be met. Some CX will be documented with a Record of Environmental Consideration (REC).
- An Environmental Assessment (EA) is prepared when no categorical exclusion is available, the proposed action is not covered adequately within the general scope of an existing EA or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and no significant environmental impact is anticipated. If the proposed action is covered within an existing EA or EIS, a REC is sufficient to document the review. If the proposed action is covered within an existing EA or EIS, but additional information is needed, a supplemental EA or EIS may be warranted. An EA results in either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FNSI or FONSI) or a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS. The EA process requires the Army to make an EA and draft FNSI available to the public for review and comment prior to making a final decision.
- An EIS is necessary when an action clearly has significant environmental impacts or when an EA cannot be concluded with a FNSI. . The EIS process requires multiple formal interactions with the public, to include "scoping," public review periods of the analyses, public meetings, and the incorporation of public comments. The decision resulting from the EIS process is documented in a Record of Decision which includes mitigation measures the Army will adopt to minimize or avoid anticipated impacts.
The process used in complying with NEPA is very similar to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) taught to Army leaders for years. However, NEPA requires open public access and encourages process participation to ensure public concerns and issues are incorporated in Army decision making.
- What has the Army done?
The Army complies with NEPA and appropriately integrates analyses, consultation, documentation and coordination required by other statutes, regulations and executive orders (EOs). Examples include requirements of the Clean Air Act; Endangered Species Act; National Historic Preservation Act; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; Migratory Bird Treaty Act; Clean Water Act; American Indian Religious Freedom Act; Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; Pollution Prevention Act; and Sikes Act, as well as all environmentally-related EOs, such as EO 13690 (2015; pertaining to flood risk management) and 13693 (2016: pertaining to federal sustainability). This integration saves both time and money, while still incorporating public participation.
The Army encourages the use of programmatic analysis for those programs or actions that are similar in nature or broad in scope. When a programmatic analysis has been completed, those actions covered under that analysis need only summarize issues already discussed in the programmatic documentation and only concentrate on the site-specific issues in the subsequent tiered documentation, saving both money and time, while still incorporating public participation.
- What does the Army have planned?
The Army supports public involvement as it analyzes the potential environmental impacts of proposed actions and provides information to Army decision-makers to enable them to make informed decisions. As the Army executes its NEPA requirements, it simultaneously executes other legal and regulatory requirements affecting the planning process, such as the consultation requirements of the Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act.
In support of its installations, the Army is taking a careful look at similar actions occurring in multiple locations and determining which actions would benefit from programmatic analyses. The promulgation of programmatic analyses implements CEQ’s guidance for programmatic NEPA reviews and enables specific proposed actions to tier off of the applicable programmatic review when completing more focused reviews addressing site-specific conditions.
- Why is this important?
NEPA provides opportunities for the Army to receive input from those who live outside its installations. The Army takes seriously its environmental and public outreach responsibilities. One of the basic principles of NEPA is that people make better decisions when they have clear information about the consequences and trade-offs associated with taking any given course of action.
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