US Environmental Policy Act

Require the federal government to “stop, look, and listen.”

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1971 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the impacts of their actions on the environment – including historic resources – before taking a “major federal action.”  Usually, an agency’s review of potential effects takes the form of environmental impact assessments or studies.  Learn about other federal laws protecting historic resources. 

Connecticut has an Environmental Protection Act that has the same “stop, look, and listen” provisions as NEPA, but applied to State projects.  It goes farther than NEPA by allowing anyone to sue to prevent the “unreasonable destruction” of properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the years, the Connecticut Trust has been involved in several NEPA-related negotiations.

Help us prevent threats to our historic resources.

Influence Federal Decisions

You have a role in the NEPA process, because you can ensure that a federal agency considers historic resources – both by providing comment during the assessment process and by participating in a lawsuit if the agency fails to adequately consider historic resources.

 

Projects Subject to NEPA Review

When it comes to historic resources, these assessments, completed with the help of the State Historic Preservation Office, first identify whether historic resources have been identified in the area likely to be impacted by the project, or whether an identification survey must be done.  If there are no properties listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, then there is a finding of No Historic Properties Affected, and no further review is necessary.

In 2017, the SHPO reviewed about 2,500 state- or federally-funded or permitted projects for environmental compliance, finding three-quarters of them to involve “no historic properties affected.”

Federal Agency Obligations

If there are historic properties, the federal agency, again with the help of the SHPO, evaluates whether the action will have an adverse effect.  Only about 1 percent of cases evaluated will be deemed to have an adverse effect on historic resources. In those cases, the SHPO and federal agency often work together to minimize adverse effects, though under NEPA they are not technically under a legal obligation to do so.  Indeed, NEPA is considered to be a “procedural” statute, ensuring that a process is followed but not dictating any substantive results.

Note that this is different from transportation projects governed by Section 4(f), a federal statute that requires that adverse effects be minimized.

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