Country’s first major environmental law turns 40

Happy 40th Anniversary! Forty years of success is a noteworthy milestone for a marriage or a birthday or even for a law. On Jan. 1, we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The act, or NEPA as it is known, was the first major environmental law in the United States. And it was passed with a huge majority of bi-partisan support—quite a feat!

Maybe not everyone has heard of NEPA, but generations of us have benefited from its vision and emphasis on public engagement.

NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions. This requires that the government’s decisions are grounded in rigorous scientific analysis and that the decisions are made in a transparent manner.

Thanks to NEPA, communities and individuals can participate in federal decisions that impact their health and livelihoods, such as public access to a treasured national park, the permitting of a highway near your children’s school, or the location for a hazardous waste dump that could impact your public water supply.

On Jan. 4 President Obama recognized NEPA’s 40th anniversary and signed a Proclamation celebrating the accomplishments of this statute. Although much has changed since 1970, a need remains for the tools provided by NEPA, which makes certain we have transparent, accountable and responsible decision-making. As President Obama said in his Proclamation:

America's economic health and prosperity are inexorably linked to the productive and sustainable use of our environment. That is why NEPA remains a vital tool for my Administration as we work to protect our Nation's environment and revitalize our economy. . . . With smart, sustainable policies like those established under NEPA, we can meet our responsibility to future generations of Americans, so they may hope to enjoy the beauty and utility of a clean, healthy planet.

In case you’re wondering, the 40th Anniversary is the “Ruby” anniversary. Happy Anniversary to this “Gem” of law!