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. NEPA requires that Federal agency decisionmakers, 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 decisionmaking 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 (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.
The National Oceanic ant Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has NEPA guidelines to assist with agency implementation, issued as NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6, "Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act". NAO 216-6 identifies NOAA's procedures to meet the requirements of NEPA, to:
a. fully integrate NEPA into the agency planning and decisionmaking process;
b. fully consider the impacts of NOAA's proposed actions on the quality of the human
c. involve interested and affected agencies, governments, organizations and individuals early in the agency planning and decisionmaking process when significant impacts are or may be expected to the quality of the human environment from implementation of proposed major Federal actions; and
d. conduct and document environmental reviews and related decisions appropriately and efficiently.
NAO 216-6 describes NOAA's policies, requirements, and procedures for complying with NEPA and the CEQ implementing regulations. For major Federal actions, the Order addresses the determination of significance and identifies procedures for categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements. NAO 216-6 addresses coordination of NEPA with other Federal laws and Executive Orders.
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