U.S. Government Policy Under NEPA

NEPA is the "National Environmental Policy Act," so one of the important things it does is establish national policy.

The core policy established by NEPA is to:

Use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans. NEPA Sec. 101(a)

This policy provides a general philosophical direction for NEPA review and justifies a wide range of activities other than project review.

  • Note: NEPA's policy language is similar to that of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This results from the fact that when NHPA was amended in 1980, its language regarding purposes and policy was adapted from NEPA.

NEPA's policy includes language that pertains specifically to the cultural aspects of the environment (cultural resources). It says the government will . . .

. . . use all practicable means . . . to the end that the Nation may . . .

(2) assure for all Americans . . . esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;

(4) preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage . . . NEPA Sec. 101(b)

An important aspect of NEPA's policy is that it promotes systematic, interdisciplinary analysis of environmental issues, including the use of disciplines that are concerned with cultural resources.

(A)ll agencies of the Federal Government shall –

(A) Utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decisionmaking which may have an impact on man's environment. NEPA Sec. 102 [emphasis added]

Things to do under NEPA other than environmental review:

  • Consider here some examples of things other than environmental review that an agency might do under the authority of NEPA. Consider environmental protection and enhancement in general policymaking.
  • Budget for environmental projects and personnel.
  • Include how environmental factors are handled when evaluating the performance of personnel.
  • Provide environmental information to the public.

NEPA is not nearly as directive about such "other things" as it is about environmental review, but the policy is there and agencies should consider it in all their activities.

Interdisciplinary analysis

"Interdisciplinary" studies and analyses are often confused with those that are merely "multidisciplinary." In a multidisciplinary study, a lot of specialists do their own things and someone brings the results together. In an interdisciplinary study, the specialists work together as a team, bringing the expertise of each to bear on everyone's problems and issues. The result should be a dynamic, creative analysis that is more than the sum of its parts.

Social Sciences and Environmental Design Arts

Some examples of social sciences that are often pertinent to environmental review are cultural and social anthropology, urban and rural sociology, social psychology, economics, cultural geography, archeology, history, architectural history, and folklife studies. Some examples of environmental design arts are landscape architecture, urban planning, regional planning, architecture, and historical architecture.