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NEPA: Understanding the Basics


Understand the main elements of NEPA review and the decision documents as well as scope and timing.

Often called the linchpin of U.S. environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) directs Federal agencies to review proposed actions and to consider potential impacts that the action will have on the social, economic, and physical environment. NEPA is a process-forcing mechanism designed to ensure that environmental considerations are factored into the decision-making process and provides a springboard for public comment. Any project with a federal connection (e.g., a permit, financing, federal land etc.) will trigger NEPA review. The purpose of this topic is to help you understand the basics of NEPA review. We will explore the main elements of the three types of review (categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements), the decision documents, and scope and timing. In addition, we will touch on judicial review of NEPA decisions as well as trends in streamlining the process.



Rafe Petersen

Rafe Petersen

Holland & Knight LLP

  • Partner at Holland & Knight LLP's Washington, D.C. office
  • Member of the firm's Government Section
  • Primarily focuses on litigation and counseling in environmental and administrative law
  • Environmental practice includes environmental compliance, enforcement, and litigation, with an emphasis on water and natural resource issues under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • Assists clients in complex permitting and regulatory issues related to energy development, transportation, commercial and residential projects, mining, and infrastructure
  • Regularly counsels clients on issues under NEPA including development of Environmental Assessments, Environmental Impact Statements and Records of Decision, responses to public comments and litigation preparation
  • Experienced in environmental litigation at both trial and appellate levels and has successfully defended dozens of clients in federal courts related to NEPA claims
  • Assists clients in responding to rulemaking efforts by federal agencies and in litigating agency actions under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)

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