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What is NEPA and what does it mean for conservation?

Published December 6th, 2019 in Conservation, UW Blogs

By Diana Pace

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to consider all of the environmental and social impacts of proposals before taking action (e.g. permitting a road or mine). It requires agencies to prepare a detailed study on the impacts of any proposed action that may “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” This study can take one of the following forms:

Environmental Assessment (EA) is a brief analysis used to determine the significance of impacts resulting from a federal action.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a detailed and thorough analysis used for the chosen actions that are expected to result in significant impacts.

The first step in the process is scoping. Federal agencies are required to go through a public “scoping process” to determine the scope of issues that should be addressed in an EA or EIS. Scoping helps the agency determine the likely significance of an action’s impacts, and whether an EA or EIS will be required. Scoping is very important. It’s up to us to tell the agencies what we want included and why.

When assessing potential impacts the agency looks at: 1.Direct impacts caused by the action and occur at the same time and place. 2. Indirect impacts caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance but reasonably foreseeable. 3. Cumulative impacts result from the incremental impact of the action when compounded by other past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.

A scoping comment can be made especially effective by describing how or why the impact you’re concerned about may be Harmful, Significant and Reasonably Foreseeable.

Harmful impacts to people, water, and wildlife or subsistence practices

Significant impact to a lot of people or a severely to a few people

Reasonably foreseeable impact means is likely to result

This information is from EARTHWORKS ACTION. They provide an outline and instructions for writing NEPA comments. The contact information is:


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