The Federal Role The federal government has long maintained a role in the protection of the…

The Federal Role

The federal government has long maintained a role in the protection of the environment— some argue too great a role. As early as 1899, Congress enacted a law that required a permit to discharge refuse into navigable waters. When it became apparent that private, state, and local environmental efforts were not adequate to address the burgeoning problems, Congress began taking more aggressive legislative steps in the early 1970s.

National Environmental Policy Act

The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) established a strong federal presence in the promotion of a clean and healthy environment. NEPA represents a general commitment by the federal government to “use all practicable means” to conduct federal affairs in a fashion that both promotes “the general welfare” and operates in “harmony” with the environment. NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which serves as an adviser to the president. The CEQ is a watchdog of sorts. It is required to conduct studies and collect information regarding the state of the environment. The council then develops policy and legislative proposals for the president and Congress. [For more on the CEQ, see ] NEPA’s primary influence, however, results from its environmental impact statement (EIS) requirements. With few exceptions, “proposals for legislation and other major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” must be accompanied by an EIS explaining the impact on the environment and detailing reasonable alternatives. Completing an EIS requires undertaking a cost– benefit analysis. It also requires consideration of cause-and-effect links. Major federal construction projects (highways, dams, nuclear reactors) would normally require an EIS, but less visible federal programs (ongoing timber management or the abandonment of a lengthy railway) may also require EIS treatment. Although the focus here is on federal actions, thus exempting solely private acts from this scrutiny, a major private-sector action supported by federal funding or by one of several varieties of federal permission may also require an EIS. Hence private companies receiving federal contracts, funding, licenses, and the like may be parties to the completion of an EIS.


Should a state be required to prepare an EIS if it wants to use federal funds to promote statewide tourism? Does it matter which state it is? Consider Iowa and then consider Hawaii. 30



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