Legal Framework of the National Environmental Policy Act [Updated September 22, 2021] [open pdf - 500KB]
From the Document: "The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 'et seq.', requires federal agencies to identify and evaluate impacts of 'major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.' Although an agency must consider these impacts, it need not elevate these environmental concerns above others. Instead, NEPA requires agencies to 'take a 'hard look' at environmental consequences' of their proposed actions, consider alternatives, and publicly disseminate such information before taking final action. 'Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council', 490 U.S. 332, 350 (1989) (emphasis added). NEPA also established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which issues regulations and guidance detailing how federal agencies must implement NEPA. 40 C.F.R. pts. 1500-1518. Through these actions, CEQ has defined and interpreted some of NEPA's broad procedural mandate. In 2020, CEQ finalized revisions to its 1978 NEPA regulations, which apply to all proposals subject to NEPA reviews after September 14, 2020, although agencies may choose to apply them to ongoing reviews. 85 Fed. Reg. 43,304 (July 16, 2020) (2020 Rules). These regulations are being challenged by a number of states and other stakeholders, and are currently stayed by the courts pending CEQ's review and revision of them. This In Focus describes the legal obligations that NEPA and the 2020 Rules impose on federal agencies. It also highlights some changes that these rules made to the 1978 regulations and CEQ's plans for revising them."
CRS In Focus, IF11549
Congressional Research Service: https://crsreports.congress.gov/