National Environmental Protection Act

Note that the act does not apply to purely private or purely public state actions.

NEPA Affects on Natural Gas Exploration and Development Federal actions specifically related to oil and gas exploration and production that may require and evaluation of environmental impacts include Federal land management agencies (e.g., Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service) approval of plans of operations for exploration or production on Federally-managed lands.

Once a determination is made that the proposed action is covered under NEPA, there are three levels of analysis that a federal agency may undertake to comply with the law. These three levels include:

  1. Preparation of a Categorical Exclusion (CE),
  2. Preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI); or
  3. Preparation and drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Generally, an EA includes brief discussions of the following: The need for the proposal

  • Alternatives (when there is an unresolved conflict concerning alternative uses of available resources)
  • The environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives
  • A listing of agencies and persons consulted.

If an EIS is deemed necessary (i.e., all federal agencies are to prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment) (See NEPA Section 102; 40 CFR Parts 1501-1508), then the EIS must:

  • Provide a fair and full discussion of significant environmental impacts and inform both decision-makers and the public about the reasonable alternatives that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts on the environment.
  • Must explore and evaluate all reasonable alternatives, even if they are not within the authority of the lead agency.
  • Must address all affected media (e.g., air, water, soil, geologic, cultural, economic resources, etc.).NEPA authorities are solely procedural; NEPA cannot compel selection of the environmentally preferred alternative.

In most instances, EPA is not the agency primarily responsible for preparing an EIS, known as the lead agency (40 CFR 1508.16). However, EPA reviews and comments on other agencies' EISs, and sometimes Eas, including those relating to gas extraction/production on federal or non-federal lands (NEPA Section 102(2)(C); CAA Section 309).

EPA has a unique responsibility in the NEPA review process. Under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review and publicly comment on the environmental impacts of major federal actions, including actions which are the subject of EISs. If EPA determines that the action is environmentally unsatisfactory, it is required by Section 309 to refer the matter to CEQ. In addition, lead agencies must consult with and obtain the comments of "any Federal agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved." NEPA Section 102(2)(C). This typically includes EPA because of its range of environmental responsibilities (See also, CAA Section 309(a) - establishing similarly broad, independent EPA review and comment responsibilities, including review of proposed regulations).

NEPA rarely applies to EPA actions in light of statutory exemptions and case law; one notable exception is EPA-issued NPDES permits for new sources (See CWA Section 511(c)). The EIS provides the basis for the permit decision; for example, an NPDES permit may be issued or denied based on EPA's review of the overall impacts, not just discharge-related impacts, of the proposed project and alternatives. Issues may include the potential for surface or groundwater contamination, aquatic and terrestrial habitat value and losses, sediment production, mitigation, and reclamation.

More Resources

USDA/EPA/Department of Interior memorandum of understanding (MOU) June 2011. Sets forth expectations and agreements for addressing air quality analyses and mitigation measures through the NEPA process related to federal oil and gas planning, leasing, or field development decisions:

Where do I get information about EISs filed with EPA, including summaries of EPA's comments? The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Database provides information about EISs prepared by federal agencies, as well as EPA's comments concerning the EISs.

What are the instructions for federal agencies on how to submit an EIS to EPA? EPA information on submitting EISs.

How do I obtain copies of EISs prepared by other federal agencies? EPA does not have copies of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) available for public distribution. Instead, we recommend that you request a copy directly from the agency that prepared the EIS.

How does EPA comply with NEPA for many of its own actions? EPA is legally required to comply with the procedural requirements of NEPA.



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