Implementing NEPA and Executive Order 12114
The main objective of the NEPA process is to protect and enhance the quality of the human environment through three main initiatives.
The first is to integrate environmental considerations into the planning of the Agency actions as early as possible.
- The second is to ensure the environment, technical, and economic considerations are weighed during decision making and before any actions are taken.
- The third is to ensure the decision maker and the public are aware of environmental consequences of proposed Agency actions and that informed decisions are made.
The NEPA process starts after a proposal is formulated. If the proposal is determined to be an Emergency, then the regular NEPA rules don’t apply and actions can begin immediately. Similarly, if it is an Exempt Action by law from NEPA requirements then the action also can proceed immediately.
Otherwise, under normal circumstances the proposal will follow the process flow depicted in the NEPA process figure shown at right, and an environmental evaluation will be performed. The environmental evaluation is a preliminary review to determine the aspects of the proposal that could possibly result in some level of environmental impact or that could have a potential environmental concern.
Once the environmental evaluation is complete, then the documentation required is determined. There are three levels of process and documentation that are integral components of the overall NEPA process.
The first level being Categorical Exclusion (CatEx), which documents proposed actions or activities that the Agency has designated as normally having no significant impacts on the human environment. If it is determined to be a CatEx, then a Record of Environmental Consideration (REC) is typically used for documentation.
- The second level is an Environmental Assessment (EA), which 1) documents any proposed actions or activities that could possibly have a significant impact on the human environment, or 2) indicates if it is unclear whether or not there are any significant impacts on the environment. In the event that an EA is performed and there are no significant impacts identified, then the decision is documented as a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). If there will be significant impacts, then the decision is documented as a Notice of Intent (NOI), and scoping will be conducted to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- The third level is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which documents proposed actions or activities expected to have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment. The EIS will describe the proposed action, any alternative actions that were identified, and the environmental impacts associated with the alternative actions. The decision on which action to implement is documented by a Record of Decision (ROD).
After the decision is made, then the proposed action is implemented with (or without) mitigation measures and monitored. Mitigations avoid or reduce the impact of the action and can include:
- Avoiding the impact by not taking action or not implementing certain parts of the action,
- Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action,
- Repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the affected environment,
- Reducing or eliminating the impact by preservation and maintenance operations during implementation over time, and
- Compensating for the impact by replacing or providing for substitute resources or environments.
All actions, whether mitigated or monitored, can be adjusted later as necessary.
For more detail on the NEPA process see NASA NPR 8580.1A – Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act and Executive Order 12114.