NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.) was born as a result of increasing concern nation-wide over the deterioration of the environment-- from contaminated water to smog and air quality problems-and from the realization that the long term quality of the environment is dependent on today's decisions. NEPA is the national charter for environmental planning. It declares a national policy which encourages harmony between humans and their environment and promotes efforts to prevent or eliminate damage to that environment. It also establishes an analytical process for Federal agency decision making. The analytical process established by NEPA requires that for Federal actions having the potential to significantly impact the environment, agencies must:
NEPA is a decision making tool very similar to, and compatible with, the project planning tools already implemented by the Coast Guard; it ensures that the decision maker is in possession of the environmental information he or she needs to make the best and most informed decisions on proposed USCG actions. NEPA requires that the effects of USCG actions on the environment are considered equally with economic, technical, and other factors associated with the proposed action.
NEPA also establishes the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ is an executive council which is responsible for overseeing the NEPA process and for reporting to the President and Congress on the status, condition, and management, of the Nation's environment. CEQ is also responsible for developing the "Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA" (40 CFR 1500-1508). The CEQ regulations require agencies to categorize each of their actions as normally requiring one of the following levels of environmental analysis and documentation:
1. A categorical exclusion (CE). (CEs are applied to those actions that do not normally have the potential for significant impacts and do not require a detailed level of environmental analysis such as an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS)).
2. An EA. (EAs are an intermediate level of environmental analysis and are conducted when an action does not fit an existing CE or its potential for significant impacts are unknown.)
3. An EIS. (EIS's are the most detailed level of environmental analysis, and they are conducted for actions that will have significant impacts.)