The National Environmental Policy Act of 1960 (NEPA) initiated the study and practice of environmental impact analysis. Upon passage, NEPA transformed the process in which the federal government plans, seeks input on, and documents major projects of environmental significance. While NEPA has surely affected project-level incremental actions, its rational comprehensive mandate as expressed in Title II of the statute has remained largely unfulfilled. Neglect of Title II has occurred as a result of broad language in NEPA that is difficult for federal judges to interpret and administrators to implement. Political interference with the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has also undermined efforts to implement the provisions of Title II.
Despite limited success in implementing Title II of NEPA, the need for comprehensive environmental monitoring and reporting persists. A decade-long series of policy reports from specialists both in and out of government has called for a national ecological indicator system. Analysis of these proposals demonstrates a clear need for coordination in ecological information. What these reports do not suggest, however, is a clear institutional home for comprehensive environmental efforts. While CEQ may be the logical home by statute, it competes with EPA for these responsibilities.
If CEQ is to restore its comprehensive mandate, it must develop a comprehensive product that differentiates itself from the efforts of EPA. This product must be science-based, but also accessible to the public and decision-makers without expert knowledge of environmental science. It must relate to fundamental components of a future, comprehensive ecological indicator system, yet also incorporate new methods of environmental accounting such as Ecological Footprinting. The product must be low-cost, easily updateable, and scalable to local, state, regional, and national efforts. Most importantly, it must retain a connection to Title II and the environmental values espoused by NEPA.