National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)
Mines requiring a permit from the federal government must meet the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Congress enacted NEPA in 1969, in response to the public’s concerns about the environmental and social impacts of unrestricted industrial development.NEPA ensures that environmental consequences that flow from federal legislation and agency action are fully considered prior to federal action. It does not impose specific environmental standards. Instead, it requires that a specified procedure be followed in the decisionmaking process. As one court noted, NEPA prohibits uninformed, not unwise, decisions.
Accordingly, a proposed action can proceed, regardless of its environmental consequences, as long as such consequences were fully considered in the decisionmaking process. Despite NEPA’s procedural nature, it has proven to be an effective means of preventing environmentally destructive federal actions, and public participation has been an essential ingredient in that success.
For mining in Alaska, the NEPA process is generally triggered when an application or proposal for an action on federal land is received that may have a negative effect on the human environment. Often this is in the form of an application for a Clean Water Act Section 404 Wetlands Dredge and Fill Permit for mining activities near wetlands, issued by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For more information and greater detail about the NEPA process, see these sources:
- A Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA: Having Your Voice Heard (Council on Environmental Quality, 2007) is a comprehensive guide developed to help citizens and organizations who are concerned about the environmental effects of federal decisionmaking to effectively participate in Federal agencies’ environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.
- Participating in The National Environmental Policy Act and Developing a Tribal Environmental Policy Act: A Comprehensive Guide For AMERICAN INDIAN and ALASKA NATIVE Communities (Mittelstaedt, Suagee, and Nelson, 2000). This book provides educational materials for tribes on environmental impact
assessment, for federal, state, and tribal processes.
- HIA and NEPA PowerPoint Presentation (from “Introduction to HIA” PowerPoint)