Happy Birthday NEPA, science-based analysis, and public input

Imagine an environmental protection law that passes the House of Representatives by a vote of 372 to 15 and passes the Senate by voice vote with no recorded dissent. Well, you don't need to imagine this, or wake up from a dream. It really happened 40 years ago with the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the National Environmental Policy Act. Known as NEPA, this measure was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Earlier this week President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation hailing NEPA's 40th anniversary. Among other things, he noted NEPA's role in promoting "....open, accountable, and responsible decision making that involves the American public."

NEPA is an incredible success story of how a good process can lead to a better outcome. What is NEPA? NEPA establishes a process to identify and consider the environmental impacts of a government proposal. NEPA requires the government to thoroughly consider all costs and benefits of a proposed action and to develop alternatives that maximize the benefits while minimizing the costs. Then it gives the public, including independent scientists, an opportunity to review and comment on any decisions. You may have heard of an environmental impact statement (EIS)--this document exemplifies the essence of NEPA.

NEPA improves collaboration, consensus, accountability and transparency surrounding government decisionmaking. Examples of when NEPA would apply include decisions about a new management plan for a national forest, or where to build a new highway. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, NRDC is currently working to ensure that more attention is paid to human health impacts during the NEPA process.

NRDC has a long history of supporting NEPA and its goals, working through the courts and agencies to ensure that government agencies comply not only with the letter of the law, but also with the spirit of NEPA. We believe that nothing is more important than NEPA's goals of sound science, informed decision making, and public participation. Unfortunately, the Bush administration worked to undermine NEPA in many ways. We are so pleased that the Obama administration is embracing the many positive aspects of this law.

Happy Birthday NEPA!