The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) is the foundation of modern American environmental protection in the United States and its commonwealths, territories, and possessions. President Nixon signed it on January 1, 1970. NEPA requires that Federal agency decision makers, in carrying out their duties, use all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which people and nature can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic, and other needs of present and future generations of Americans. NEPA provides a mandate and a framework for Federal agencies to consider all reasonably foreseeable environmental effects of their proposed actions and to involve and inform the public in the decision making process. This Act also established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President to formulate and recommend national policies, which ensure that the programs of the Federal government promote improvement of the quality of the environment.
The CEQ set forth regulations to assist Federal agencies in implementing NEPA during the planning phases of any federal action. These regulations together with specific Federal agency NEPA implementation procedures help to ensure that the environmental impacts of any proposed decisions are fully considered and that appropriate steps are taken to mitigate potential environmental impacts.
Federal agencies are encouraged to apply the NEPA process at the earliest possible time in order to ensure consideration of potential or actual environmental impacts. As specified in Section 102(A) of NEPA, a systematic and interdisciplinary approach, including consideration of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts, should be utilized in planning, evaluation, and decision-making.
The Department of Navy has NEPA guidelines to assist with agency implementation, issued as OPNAVINST 5090.1B, "Environmental and Natural Resources Program Manual." It outlines Navy's procedures to meet the requirements of NEPA, to:
- Fully integrate NEPA into the agency planning and decision making process;
- Fully consider the impacts of Navy's proposed actions on the quality of the human environment;
- Involve interested and affected agencies, governments, organizations and individuals early in the agency planning and decision making process when significant impacts are or may be expected to the quality of the human environment from implementation of proposed major Federal actions; and
- Conduct and document environmental reviews and related decisions appropriately and efficiently.
OPNAVINST 5090.1B describes Navy's policies, requirements, and procedures for complying with NEPA and the CEQ implementing regulations. For major Federal actions, it addresses the determination of significance and identifies procedures for categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements. It also addresses coordination of NEPA with other Federal laws and Executive Orders.