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navigate in the page--NEPA

Much, if not all, of what Reclamation does requires some form of compliance with National Environmental Policy Act ( NEPA*) and associated Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) * regulations. Thus, it is important to be aware of NEPA requirements. Considerable time and expense will be saved in solving problems if along the way you frequently ask "How does NEPA fit here?" or "Will this action (or data) also help fulfill NEPA requirements?"

NEPA is designed to foster excellent decisions, based on considering the human environment. NEPA/CEQ encourages public participation by requiring notices of intent, review periods, and public hearings for environmental impact statements. This provides a good starting place for balanced decisions. However, simply following the letter of NEPA/CEQ requirements will not be enough for an effective problem-solving effort.


navigate in the page--Questions

The Federal NEPA compliance process must consider the following overall questions:

  • What changes are needed to fulfill the program goals?
  • What essential needs must be achieved, irrespective of all other factors, to achieve final acceptance?
  • What are the resource management objectives?
  • How will resource management change?
  • What can we change to meet the program goals? How will these changes affect the system and the environment (human, biological, etc.)?
  • What are the legal and institutional changes?
  • What study and monitoring requirements (both short and long term) will provide the information needed to show impacts?
  • What legal requirements and agreement requirements that must be met.
  • Who will be affected by a given alternative and how will they be affected?
  • How does each element affect other elements?
  • What will cumulative impacts be -- how will practices affect species, socioeconomics?


navigate in the page--NEPA Documents and Decision Process Steps

Knowledge of environmental integrity (either through you or someone on your team) and concern for a sustainable* environment will enable you to proceed with the responsible decisionmaking. You may also be able to influence others regarding the principles of sustainable resource management and development.

The decision process we describe here fits well within actions required by NEPA/CEQ. In fact, documents and actions required by NEPA/CEQ are good tools for problem solving even if your problem-solving effort does not require NEPA/CEQ compliance. Scoping helps determine needs, objectives, resources and constraints, potential options, and requirements for screening criteria. Public participation also helps find and develop alternatives.

The NEPA process requires various documents to help ensure a thorough, well thought out process. The figure on the next page presents a capsulized overview of the NEPA documents and process. Categorical exclusions are the first step in the process to decide whether or not the action is significant enough to warrant a full scale environmental assessment (EA)*. The EA process then helps determine if an action will have a significant impact. If not, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)* is prepared and decisionmakers decide whether or not to continue. If so, then an environmental impact statement (EIS)* helps decisionmakers weigh those impacts for a balanced decision. Notices of intent, scoping processes, and periods for review and comment help order public participation.

An EA or an EIS can reflect the results of the decision process very easily. The format assigns different tasks or steps to various chapters so the reader can understand the analysis* . The following table compares the format of an EA and EIS.

Chapters in a NEPA Document

Steps in the Decision Process

Chapter 1: Purpose and Need

Steps 1 and 2, defining needs and objectives

Chapter 2: Alternatives


The results of Steps 4-6, creating and screening options and developing alternatives .

Chapter 3: Affected Environment

Resources and constraints identified in Step 3 that the evaluation in Step 7 found would be affected.

Chapter 4: Environmental Consequences

The results of the evaluation in Step 7

Chapter 5: Consultation and Coordination

Public participation and consultation done in each step.

The Record of Decision (ROD)*

Documentation from Step 8, Selection

Mitigation* and environmental commitments

Part of Step 10, Monitor and Followup


navigate in the page--NEPA Flow Chart

The following image shows the basic requirements for NEPA documents. Note that the process is NOT just in one direction. While doing a lower level of compliance (e.g., an environmental assessment or a categorical exclusion) if you find you need more investigation and review, you can go to a higher level (e.g., an environmental impact statement).

The SIMPLEST NEPA flowchart EVER!!!!!!


navigate in the page--Go On

Contact D-8250 for copies of The National Environmental Policy Handbook, 1990*

Dragon Tour wide-eyed dragon on the loose Policy <-------> Decision Analysis



SpecificAdministrative Records for NEPA

PreviousBudget Process




Note: These files were developed and were originally hosted at the Bureau of Reclamation, United States Department of the Interior.
I am hosting this as an archive. Contact Deena Larsen (deenalarsen AT for further information.