Summary of Law’s Purpose:
The purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act was to establish recommendations for federal agencies to encourage mitigation and reduction of potential damage to environmental systems from human-environment interactions that prioritized human interest over environmental health (Dept. of Energy, 1969). It was meant to educate federal agencies on how natural systems and ecosystem services are of critical importance (Dept. of Energy, 1969). In addition to the establishment of environmental guidelines, the act also created the Council on Environmental Quality, which made the President accountable to Congress on the welfare and health of the environment. (Dept. of Energy, 1969).
The law is administered by the Council on Environmental Quality, a federal agency that was established by the law itself (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.). The Council administers the law through advising on the content of regulations, regulating the implementation of the law’s procedures, as well as mediating between the different agencies and governmental bodies that work within the scope of the law’s regulations (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.).. The state government are involved through their branches of various federal agencies but they have no direct influence on the implementation of the law, their actions are subject to federal approval (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.). The public has little chance to engage in the process beyond the presidential election process, as the Council is under presidential authority (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.). The primary level of administration therefore is entirely federal, with little outside influence (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.). The full text of the law can be found at:https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/nepapub/nepa_documents/RedDont/Req-NEPA.pdf
History of the Law
This law was enacted in 1970, specifically on January 1, when President Richard Nixon signed it (Council on Environmental Quality, n.d.). Since it passed, the law has been amended several times. The first amendment was in 1975 through Public Law 94-83, which enabled states to write the environmental impact statements required for acquiring federal funding (Quartner, 273). The second amendment was passed later in 1975 as Public Law 94-52, and altered the allowed uses of funds by Council on Environmental Quality (Government Publishing Office, n.d.).
The Democratic party controlled the chambers of Congress when the NEPA was enacted (US Senate, n.d). However, the Republican party controlled the Presidency (US Senate, n.d).The bill passed by a with a vote of 372 to 15 in the House of Representatives and was voted through the Senate by a unanimous vote (HistoryLink, n.d).
Relevant Policy Principles:
This law invokes the policy principle of common but differentiated responsibility, or “command and control” (Connelly, 189). Because it is a command and control based principle that makes it a “rights based mechanism (Connelly, 188) This is due to the nature of this law which mandates that the federal government regulates the implementation of environmental policy, but there is a secondary level where the state level agencies also have a level of responsibility to uphold the standards set by the federal law (Connelly, 2012). This multiplicity of responsibility, where multiple parties are responsible, but no responsibility is designated as the superior one, fits in with the idea of this policy principle (Connelly, 2012). The primary strength of this kind of policy is that it prevents a “race to the bottom” type situation where companies move locations to find the most lenient restrictions (Connelly, 2012). However, in contrast, this policy is weak in that it takes away the opportunity for industries to be motivated towards innovation to avoid penalties (Connelly, 2012).
The National Preservation Institute’s summary of the NEPA can be found at: https://www.npi.org/NEPA/what-is. The NPI is a nonprofit that aims to educate the public about “cultural heritage” (NPI, n.d.) as well as “management” (NPI, n.d.) and “preservation,” (NPI, n.d.) and offers seminars to instill this knowledge in its members through multi-day workshops (NPI, n.d.). This summary differs from the EPA summary of the NEPA in that it outlines the two main objectives of the act within federal agencies, whereas the EPA version is more generalized about what the act was intended to accomplish on a more societal level, mentioning industry and commercial operations (NPI, n.d.). The EPA’s own summary can be found at https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-national-environmental-policy-act.
“Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).” Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) | Department of Energy. Department of Energy, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://energy.gov/nepa/council-environmental-quality-ceq.
“NEPA | National Environmental Policy Act.” NEPA | National Environmental Policy Act. Council on Environmental Quality, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://ceq.doe.gov/.
“Senate Historical Office.” U.S. Senate: Majority and Minority Leaders and Party Whips. United States Senate, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Majority_Minority_Leaders.htm.
“Summary of the National Environmental Policy Act.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, Feb. 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-national-environmental-policy-act.
“The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 as Amended.” Environmental Impact Statements, Second Edition (1999): n. pag. The Department of Energy. Web. 2017. https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/nepapub/nepa_documents/RedDont/Req-NEPA.pdf.
“United States Statutes at Large, Volume 89, 94th Congress, 1st Session.” United States Statutes at Large, Volume 89, 94th Congress, 1st Session. Government Publishing Office, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-89.
“What Is NEPA?” What Is NEPA? | National Preservation Institute. National Preservation Institute, 14 June 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. https://www.npi.org/NEPA/what-is.
Andrew Quartner, Amending NEPA: State Preparation of Impact Statements, 5 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 271 (1976), http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/ealr/vol5/iss2/5
Connelly, James, ed. Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice. 3rd ed. Abingdon, Oxonâ€¯; New York: Routledge, 2012.
Kershner, Jim. “EPA, the National Environmental Policy Act.” Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. http://www.historylink.org/File/9903.
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