On January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was signed into law. NEPA established a national environmental policy intentionally focused on federal activities and the desire for a sustainable environment balanced with other essential needs of present and future generations of Americans. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was established to federally implement NEPA, by interpreting the law and addressing NEPA's action forcing provisions in the form of regulations and guidance.
NEPA requires the examination and avoidance, minimization, or mitigation of potentially adverse impacts to the social and natural environment when considering approval of proposed transportation projects. In addition to evaluating the potential environmental effects, NEPA also takes into account the transportation needs of the public in reaching a decision that is in the best overall public interest. The Federal Highway Administration NEPA project development process is an approach to balanced transportation decision-making that takes into account the potential impacts on the human and natural environment and the public's need for safe and efficient transportation.
Project delivery NEPA processes must address the following six elements:
- Define the project's purpose and need so as to identify what the project/proposal is intended to accomplish. Purpose and need drives the process for alternatives consideration, influences the environmental analysis, and ultimately the alternative selection.
- Alternative analysis to consider a range of reasonable alternatives to the proposed project, based on the purpose and needs.
- Consideration of appropriate impact mitigation: avoidance, minimization, and compensation.
- Interagency participation: coordination and consultation. PennDOT utilizes a monthly agency coordination meeting as a way to meet this element.
- Public involvement including opportunities to participate and comment.
- Documentation and disclosure. Environmental Documentation is either an Environmental Impact Statement, Environmental Assessment, or Categorical Exclusion.
NEPA is dependent on federal funding. When there is no federal funding, PennDOT follows Section 2002 of the Administrative Code of 1929, which defines the powers and duties held by PennDOT. Act 120 of P.L. 356 amended Section 2002 in 1970 to add requirements to address environmental impacts from transportation projects. Section 2002 requires that the department consult with a variety of other Commonwealth agencies regarding the natural, social, and cultural effects of any planned transportation project. Section 2002 also requires PennDOT to evaluate alternatives and minimize harm to resources whenever lands from recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, historic sites, forest, wilderness, game lands, and public parks are needed for highway
or transportation purposes.