On January 1, 1970 the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was signed into law. NEPA established a national environmental policy intentionally focused on federal activities and the desire for a sustainable environment balanced with other essential needs of present and future generations of Americans. NEPA established a supplemental mandate for federal agencies to consider the potential environmental consequences of their proposals, document the analysis, and make this information available to the public for comment prior to implementation.
Two types of documents are typically prepared to satisfy NEPA - an environmental assessment (EA) and environmental impact statement (EIS). An EA is prepared for actions in which the significance of the environmental impact is not clearly established. If the environmental analysis and interagency review during the EA process find a project to have no significant impacts on the quality of the environment, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is issued. The FONSI serves both as an official finding by the agency that the action will not result in a significant effect and as the public record explaining why the agency has taken a particular course of action. The FONSI constitutes the closure of the NEPA process for EAs.
NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements (EISs) for major federal actions that have the potential to significantly affect the quality of the human environment. A recent shift in federal policy requires the preparation of an EIS for most tribal gaming projects under the presumption that they may significantly impact the environment.
An EIS is a full disclosure document that details the process through which a project was developed, includes consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other applicable environmental laws and executive orders. The EIS process is completed in the following ordered steps: Notice of Intent (NOI), draft EIS, final EIS, and record of decision (ROD). The ROD constitutes the closure of the NEPA process.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released the draft EIS for this project in February of 2008. Shortly thereafter, a public hearing of the casino’s environmental study was held at Hatfield Hall at the Madera County Fairgrounds with an estimated 800 people in attendance.
Not one speaker was turned away from the event and roughly 100 individuals spoke – a majority in support of the project.
It is expected the BIA will release the final EIS sometime early in 2009.