The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of a wide range of actions, including direct federal undertakings and projects that receive federal funding or permits. Many states have since enacted similar laws of varying scope, requiring evaluation of the environmental impacts of certain state and local actions. For instance, New York State enacted the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in 1975. Some municipalities, including New York City, have their own environmental review procedures.
The purpose of NEPA and similar state laws is to ensure that government agencies investigate and disclose potential significant impacts of their actions on the environment and to encourage agencies to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of a project before acting. NEPA establishes procedural, rather than substantive, obligations, “prohibit[ing] uninformed – rather than unwise – decision making.”
Environmental Law | Law
Jennier Klein & Ethan Strell,
Legal Tools for Climate Adaptation Advocacy: NEPA,
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, March 2015
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/sabin_climate_change/133