NPS Director's Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making
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California National Historic Trail, CA1.1 Introduction — The DO-12 Handbook and Director's Order

A. NEPA and the Council on Environmental Quality

Ice climbing at City of Rocks National Reserve, IDThe National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed by Congress in 1969 and took effect on January 1, 1970. This landmark legislation established this country's environmental policies, including the goal of achieving productive harmony between human beings and the physical environment for present and future generations. It provided the tools to carry out these goals by mandating that every federal agency prepare an in-depth study of the impacts of “major federal actions having a significant effect on the environment” and alternatives to those actions, and requiring that each agency make that information an integral part of its decisions. NEPA also requires that agencies make a diligent effort to involve the interested and affected public before they make decisions affecting the environment.

Besides setting environmental planning policy goals, NEPA created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), an agency of the President's office that would be the “caretaker” of NEPA. CEQ published NEPA regulations in 1978 (40 CFR 1500-1508) and added to them in 1981 with a guidance document titled “Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's NEPA Regulations” (40 Most Asked Questions). These regulations apply to all federal agencies, and in them CEQ requires each federal agency to “implement procedures to make the NEPA process more useful to agency decision-makers and the public” (40 CFR 1500.2). Agencies are to review and update these regulations as necessary.

CEQ Regulations and Guidance

B. Interior/NPs NEPA guidance and this handbook

Accessible trail at Zion National Park, UTThe Department of the Interior (Interior) produced its NEPA regulations as Part 516 of its departmental manual (DM), and the National Park Service (NPs) produced several NEPA handbooks. The last update, NPS-12, was issued in 1982. Interior has also produced and continuously updates a series of environmental statement and compliance memoranda which further interpret Part 516 and need to be consulted in this process. This handbook is an update and revision of NPS-12, and it supersedes the 1982 version. Although it is termed a handbook, most of the sections derive in whole or in part from the CEQ regulation or Interior NEPA guidelines, giving them the force of law. The processes described in this handbook are binding on all NPs personnel. Under the terms of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, the “Secretary shall take such measures as are necessary to assure the full and proper utilization of the results of scientific study for park management decisions. In each case in which an action undertaken by the National Park Service may cause a significant adverse effect on a park resource, the administrative record shall reflect the manner in which unit resource studies have been considered.” The development of alternatives, analysis of impacts, and incorporation of the best available information, coupled with identification of environmentally preferable courses of action as called for in this handbook, are one set of steps required in meeting this obligation to the public.

This handbook never conflicts with the CEQ regulations, although the NPs has added some requirements that go beyond those imposed by CEQ to help facilitate the requirements of the law that established the NPs (the Organic Act) and other laws and policies that guide our actions.

C. Citations in NPS-12

Sections of NEPA, the CEQ regulations, the 40 Most Asked Questions, and the Interior departmental manual are cited in NPS-12. They are cited as follows:

  1. NEPA — The section number is in parentheses: (section 102 (A)), for example.
  2. CEQ regulations — The section number is in parentheses: (1502.1).
  3. 40 Most Asked Questions — The number of the question referenced is cited in parentheses: (Q23).
  4. Interior departmental manual — A section is cited in parentheses as 516 DM followed by the section or appendix number: (516 DM, 7). Environmental statement memoranda are designated as ESM and the year and number: (ESM 94-8). Environmental compliance memoranda are designated as ECM and the year and number: (ECM 95-2).

D. How to use this handbook

This handbook contains the basic information you need for meeting the legal requirements of NEPA and for practicing excellent impact assessment and resource conservation. Also, NPs employees who deal with NEPA on a regular basis should receive training that is periodically updated, so that the goals of NEPA are met throughout all levels of NPs NPs also has guidance on related topics, such as planning, cultural resource protection, and natural resource management.

Much of the handbook uses the pronoun “you” to speak to the reader. “You” may be an individual from the park, a system support office (SSO), a regional office, a member of a NEPA interdisciplinary team (IDT), a decision-maker, or any other NPs staff or contractor responsible for some piece of the NEPA process.

View links to all Director's Orders

Read the Memorandum and Director's Order 12 (Get the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader 5.0 to read the document.)

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