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A More Effective and Timely NEPA

James L. Connaughton, Proceedings of 49th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2003)

On January 1, 1970, President Nixon signed the first law of the decade, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).1In addition to spelling out our job at the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), NEPA charted a clear, concise, optimistic, and ambitious direction for America's environmental policy and decisionmaking.2 In my capacity as Chairman of CEQ, one of my main responsibilities is to oversee NEPA implementation.3 At my confirmation hearing, I recalled the words of Senator John Chafee, one of the great environmental statesmen of the Senate, who described NEPA as a ”tall order, but an important one.“4 I agree, and fully embrace NEPA's broad policy objective.

The environmental issues we discuss and debate today, the relationships we are still trying to work out, and the goals toward which we continually strive are not new. Congress framed them all when it drafted NEPA over 30 years ago. For this reason, NEPA is a landmark statute that is just as relevant today as it ever was. This perpetual relevance resonates throughout NEPA and remains embodied in its opening declaration of policy:

The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man's activity on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment, particularly the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new [2