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NEPA Effectiveness — A survey of academics

Environmental Impact Assessment Review
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0195-9255(97)00013-9
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Physics


Abstract The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) went into effect in the United States on January 1, 1970, just over 25 years ago. In light of this milestone, a survey of academics on the effectiveness of NEPA has been conducted regarding the preparation of environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact statements (EISs). This paper summarizes the results of a survey of 31 academics in 12 disciplines from 21 states; the majority of which have over 20 years of experience in teaching, research and/or practice of the NEPA process. Several strengths of NEPA were identified, most importantly that NEPA encourages agencies and decision makers: (1) to acknowledge potential environmental consequences to the public, thus opening up the decision process; and (2) to think about environmental consequences before resources are committed. Surveyed participants also prioritized needs for improvement; the five most important were: (1) post-EIS follow-up in monitoring, implementation of mitigation measures, ecosystem management, and environmental auditing; (2) methodological approaches for addressing cumulative impacts and reductions in institutional barriers to analysis of cumulative impacts; (3) training of federal personnel implementing NEPA; (4) earlier considerations of NEPA in project planning and decision making; and (5) the integrated consideration of biophysical and social/economic sciences, along with risk assessment, in NEPA. While this survey was focused on the NEPA process in the United States, the identified issues have implications for the worldwide practice of environmental impact assessment. Finally, recommendations are described that are primarily associated with guidance, possible modifications in the NEPA process and follow-on training.

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