The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) establishes policies that apply to all federal government actions. It is best known for establishing environmental review processes on federal agency actions. NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.
To meet NEPA requirements, federal agencies typically prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for every proposed action with a major environmental impact. A draft version of the EIS is made available to the public for a comment period (usually 60 days). The public comments are then incorporated into the final version of the document and then released for another public comment period (30 days). The final EIS is reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for adherence to current environmental laws.
NEPA regulations (agency guidance for enforcing the law) provide for a variation on the EIS process in emergency situations. A federal agency has the responsibility to implement an alternative arrangement for emergency actions that will cause significant impacts to the environment. Alternative arrangements are implemented in cooperation with The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the federal and state resource agencies. Alternative arrangements do not waive the requirement to comply with NEPA, but establish an alternative means for compliance.
The greater New Orleans area was in an emergency situation after Hurricane Katrina caused breaching and overtopping of many levees and floodwalls. The USACE New Orleans District designed a unique alternative arrangement in cooperation with CEQ to achieve NEPA compliance in an expedited process so that the repair and rebuilding of levees could be completed in a time frame commensurate with the emergency conditions in New Orleans.. The arrangement involves the issuance of an Individual Environmental Report (IER) for each proposed action. The Corps facilitates public meetings to discuss the IERs which, like an EIS, contain alternatives to hurricane risk reduction project plans. The public is encouraged to participate in this process via public meetings, written comments, or by visiting an Internet site established to focus exclusively on NEPA compliance and public involvement: www.nolaenvironmental.gov