Happy Birthday, NEPA!

America’s first modern environmental law – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – turned 40 last week. That’s cause to celebrate: NEPA set forth environmental protection and conservation as an official policy of the U.S. government. It also created a structured environmental review process that requires federal agencies to assess the ramifications of their actions and explain their choices. NEPA also recognizes that environmental protection is a shared responsibility and gives the public an opportunity to participate in this decision-making.

President Obama marked the occasion by signing a proclamation on New Years’ Eve. In his proclamation, President Obama noted that America’s “long-term prosperity depends upon our faithful stewardship of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we sow.” We couldn’t agree more. NEPA has been an invaluable tool in protecting our nation’s natural resources – and our rivers in particular – and it’s great to see the administration honoring that legacy by reaffirming the administration’s commitment to the fundamanetal principles of NEPA: environmental quality, openness, transparency, and public involvement.

NEPA’s history is also a nice reminder that the protection and conservation of the environment need not be a contentious political issue. Before it was signed by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA sailed through the U.S. Senate unanimously and passed the House of Representatives 372-15.  Congress clearly recognized the benefits that a clean, healthy environment brings to all Americans.