NPS Director's Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making
Table of Contents
Disclaimer Information
California National Historic Trail, CA1.4 Introduction — NEPA Fundamentals

NEPA analyses that follow both the spirit and the letter of the law and that have held up to court challenges display the following characteristics:

A. Part of planning

NEPA is the environmental component of agency planning. Under the CEQ regulations, it is to be integrated with other planning “at the earliest possible time to insure planning and decisions reflect environmental values” (1501.2). The NEPA process is always triggered at the “proposal” stage, or when an agency is considering a goal and is “actively pursuing different means of accomplishing that goal” (40 CFR 1508.23) if implementing the goal would have environmental impacts. The proposal stage is during or immediately following the feasibility stage (1502.5(a)). However, environmental planning is also useful in defining goals, particularly in broader planning, such as for an entire park or park unit.

B. Systematic

According to NEPA (section 102 (A)), NEPA analyses must be systematic. The selection of appropriate issues, impact topics, mitigation strategies, analysis boundaries, and alternatives; the involvement of the interested and affected public; and other aspects of the NEPA process must be based on evidence and on sound, repeatable thought processes.

C. Part of a public process

CEQ requires agencies to make “diligent” efforts to involve the interested and affected public in the NEPA process (1506.6), regardless of the level of impact and/or documentation. The extent of the public involvement will change depending on the degree of impact and interest in the proposal. Agencies must also “encourage and facilitate public involvement in decisions which affect the quality of the human environment” (1500.2 (d)). If the public finds that an agency did not follow the procedural requirements of NEPA, or that the agency's analysis of a proposal in a NEPA document was lacking or inadequate, relief is often sought through legal action. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews and rates the adequacy of all EISs, and CEQ oversees the rules and policies governing the NEPA process and resolves certain types of disputes.

D. Written in plain language

Because the public has been given an essential role in monitoring the NEPA process, you must write documents in language the general public can understand (1502.8). This means that all jargon, technical terms, and acronyms must be clearly defined, usually in a glossary.

E. Focused

CEQ requires that NEPA documents be “concise, clear, and to the point.” They must “emphasize real environmental issues and alternatives” and be useful to the decision-maker and the public (1500.2). You should keep the discussion of resources that would be affected brief, and keep the length of all other discussions proportionate to the seriousness of the impact (1502.2). “Most important, NEPA documents must concentrate on the issues that are truly significant (i.e., pivotal) to the action in question, rather than amassing needless detail” (1500.1 (b)).

F. Problem-solving

In an effort to make NEPA documents useful to decision-makers, CEQ requires that they be “analytic rather than encyclopedic” (1500.4). This means you should focus the analysis on solving any environmental problems a proposal might createthat is, on creating reasonable alternatives or mitigation.

G. Objective

NEPA requires an objective, high-quality scientific analysis of impacts that the proposal or its alternatives may create (1500.1 (b)). If you are basing the analysis on the scientific judgment of one expert, this judgment should be substantiated with literature or other experts' statements and be based on data, education, or experience. Peer review of experts' research and NEPA analysis is one way to obtain input on complex environmental issues.

H. Based on an interdisciplinary approach

Because NEPA analyses are scientific, objective, and high quality, they must be performed by individuals with credentials appropriate to the issues (1502.6). These individuals must use the interdisciplinary or interactive team approach in defining all important features of the analysis (issues, data-gathering needs, alternatives, etc.) throughout the NEPA process. This approach includes discussions with “cross-functional” disciplines; specialists from the park and other NPS offices, contractors; and decision-makers, as appropriate (NEPA section 102 (A), CEQ 1502.6). Members of the interdisciplinary team may come from other federal, state, and local agencies or tribes as well. Parks may wish to use non-agency individuals to provide additional insights.

It is recognized that the park staff may be small and that resource specialists may consist of one or two individuals. The need for an IDT does not mean that a large group of specialists must be assembled for every action under consideration. What it means is that the one or two specialists should be consulting with a number of sources, staff (including maintenance, operations, etc.), and non-agency individuals as needed to make good NEPA-based decisions (see section 2.10).

Further Links:

NPOMA Section 206

I. Candid

A theme that runs through NEPA, case law, and CEQ regulations is that agencies must be candid in their NEPA documentation. Expert agency criticism and public scrutiny help to ensure such disclosure. If reviewing agencies indicate they disagree with the impact analysis, you should record these conflicting opinions in the NEPA document (section 102 (D) (iv)). If information important to the decision between alternatives is incomplete or unavailable, you should state this in a NEPA document (CEQ 1502.22).

J. Based on common sense

NEPA documents are meant to be short, focused, analytic, problem-solving documents that help decision-makers make informed and wise decisions about the use of resources. Alternatives and mitigation must be feasible, both technically and economically. Common sense and usability are precepts that run throughout NEPA.

K. Inclusive

CEQ requires that agencies examine connected actions, cumulative impacts, secondary or indirect impacts, and similar actions in their NEPA documents. Agencies are specifically prohibited from segmenting projects, also known as piecemealing. “Proposals or parts of proposals which are related to each other closely enough to be, in effect, a single course of action” are to be evaluated in a single NEPA document (1502.4).

L. Tools to help foster excellent action

“Ultimately, of course, it is not better documents, but better decisions, that count. NEPA's purpose is not to generate paperwork — even excellent paperwork — but to foster excellent action.” (1500.1) A well-done NEPA analysis offers your decision-maker several reasonable options for resolving problems or fulfilling needs that gave rise to the proposal initially while minimizing or correcting impacts to natural resources. It is done early in the planning process, so that its results can be an integral part of the information used to make a project decision.

M. Holistic

In its statements of purpose and policy (section 101), NEPA speaks of sustainability, balance, and knowledge and protection of environmental resources, including ecological systems. Congress asks NPS to use NEPA not only as a tool to look at whether to pave a road or build a trail, but as a guide in the larger aspects of NPS decision-making. Topics such as how resource use in a park will affect an entire region or ecosystem, how to preserve resources while allowing for appropriate public use and enjoyment, or how a decision now will affect park management options in the very long-term future are the kinds of issues NEPA was designed to emphasize.

N. Ultimately site-specific

Before you choose to implement an action — to “break ground” — your decision-maker must have detailed site-specific environmental impact information (1501.2 (b)). However, NEPA analysis may be required when broader actions, such as plans, programs, or policies, are under consideration. The data collected to analyze these more general actions should be comparatively general, with progressively more specific data analyzed as you move toward implementing an action. You may rightly prepare one NEPA document to help your decision-maker in choosing between broad actions, and another to help in implementing the selection. This step-wise approach to planning and design is called “tiering” (1508.28; see section 7.4 of this guide for details), and it allows NPS to focus on the right set of alternatives or decisions at the right time.

Further Links:

See Director's Order 2: Park Planning

<<Return to previous page

Continue to next section>>

Return to top of page

Level A conformance icon, 
          W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

Back to EQD