Environmental Affairs Program
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is the cornerstone of our Nation's environmental laws and was enacted to ensure that information on the environmental impacts of any Federal, or federally funded, action is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken. 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 (40 CFR Pts. 1500-1508) 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 decisionmaking.
As with many agencies, the USGS issued NEPA Implementation Procedures. These procedures describe major actions which normally require an EIS. For those USGS activities not excluded, typically an environmental assessment would be conducted which would result in either:
(1) a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or
(2) the preparation of a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Once a decision has been made to prepare an EIS, a Notice of Intent (NOI) would be published in the Federal Register. This notice would provide an invitation to all involved agencies and groups, along with any interested party, to participate in the process of determining the scope of issues to be addressed in the EIS.
Appendix 2 to the CEQ regulations is a list of Federal and Federal-State agencies which by law or special expertise have jurisdiction on environmental quality issues. These designated agencies must be provided the opportunity to review environmental documents so that they may provide appropriate comments relative to their jurisdiction or special expertise. Comments may address either the adequacy of the assessment document or the merits of the alternatives discussed, or both.
The USGS, a non-regulatory agency, has special expertise in a number of specific environmental areas. The USGS reviews approximately 500 environmental documents per year.