From The Durango Herald (Megan Graham):
President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law on Jan. 1, 1970, putting into place the protocol by which projects and processes that could impact the environment would be evaluated and mitigated to manage those impacts. It was nothing short of groundbreaking and has provided the policy and legal framework for many successes the conservation community has celebrated over the last four decades.
NEPA’s purpose is flush with common sense: “To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality.”
That relatively simple purpose translates into a methodical series of steps that federal agencies must take to consider the full effect of any proposed action and the range of alternatives possible for that action. It is dry, procedural and detail-intensive, but its premise – that development does not necessarily equal progress – is profound, as have been NEPA’s results.