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A Survey of State Environmental Policy Acts

Matthew G. Adams, National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)1 is best known for requiring federal agencies to identify, evaluate, and disclose the environmental effects of their proposed actions.2 But NEPA's impact is not limited to the federal context. It has also served (and, in some cases, continues to serve) as a model for a number of state environmental impact assessment statutes.

All in all, 15 states have adopted some form of environmental impact assessment statute modeled on NEPA.3 Like NEPA, the fundamental purpose of these “State Environmental Policy Acts” (SEPAs) or “Mini-NEPAs” is to force public agencies to integrate environmental considerations into their decision-making processes.4 However, many SEPAs differ from NEPA -- and from each other -- in important ways.

A detailed, encyclopedic description of each of the 15 SEPAs (let alone their respective implementing regulations, legislative histories, and bodies of case law) is beyond the scope of this -- or, indeed, any -- single conference paper.5 By surveying the different ways in which [14-2] SEPAs have addressed certain issues basic to all environmental impact assessment statutes, however, it is possible to understand the most important ways in which the state acts differ from NEPA and from each other.

With that goal in mind, this paper surveys the ways in which SEPAs address (1) the types of govern