NEPA is facing strong challenges from the Bush administration, Congress and business interests who say the law has been holding up progress on a number of fronts, among them building highways, preventing forest fires and drilling for oil and gas in the Rocky Mountains.
The House version of the pending energy bill would exempt many oil and gas exploration projects from NEPA review. And a congressional committee is holding public hearings with the stated intention of changing how the law works. To expedite a wide range of projects, the administration and lawmakers have exempted some categories of federal actions from NEPA assessments or limited their scope.
The federal government takes an estimated 50,000 actions each year — including building campgrounds in national forests and plotting the routes of superhighways. And, to varying degrees, every one of those actions involving federal land, funds and permits is subject to scrutiny under NEPA.
The three-page statute, known as the Magna Carta of environmental law, required the government for the first time to involve the public in decisions that could harm natural surroundings or disturb neighborhoods. The law has been imitated by other countries and many states.