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2 Tutorials that teach Environmental Policy
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Environmental Policy

Environmental Policy

Author: Sophia Tutorial

 Identify the actions required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

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what's covered
This tutorial will cover the topic of environmental policy. We will discuss the different levels of government and how they interact with environmental policy. We will explore different approaches to environmental policy, federal agencies involved in environmental policy, and NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act.

Our discussion breaks down as follows:

  1. Levels of Government
  2. Approaches to Environmental Policy
  3. Federal Agencies
  4. NEPA

1. Levels of Government

The government exists at four main levels. The national, or federal, level is made up of states. The state level is composed of counties, and the county level is composed of cities and townships.

Levels of Government

Each level has a different role in environmental policy. Before 1970, it was the responsibility of state and local governments to regulate natural resources in their jurisdiction. However, since the 1970s spike in national awareness around environmental issues, regulation of natural resources has shifted into being a federal responsibility, with implementation of national policy being taken care of at the state and local levels.

2. Approaches to Environmental Policy

There are three different approaches government can take toward environmental policy:

Environmental Policy Approaches Description
Total Free Market This approach leaves regulation in the hands of businesses and industries themselves to manage. This was historically the case for the United States; however, since 1970 that has changed. This approach is more common in other countries now.
Free Market with some Government Control This approach strikes a balance between total free market and total government control. Various levels of government employ tactics like emissions, taxes, and tradable permits to regulate industries without taking too much control.
Total Government Control This approach utilizes government at every level to manage and regulate environmental impacts of all kinds.

Over the past few decades, the United States has shifted away from the total free market approach toward free market with some government control. Certain areas have become regulated at a national level, while others have been given to the free market.

3. Federal Agencies

Some important regulating federal agencies to note are:

  • National Institute of Health, or the National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Each regulates, monitors, and controls different issues, using various approaches dependent on the agency's goals.


NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, required federal government to allocate funds and time in order to:

  • Identify negative effects from human activities on the environment which are unavoidable, such as safety, health, aesthetic, or ecological
  • Consider and assess alternative actions to any federal actions and projects
  • Identify resources necessary to the project

NEPA does not forbid any actions from being taken -- it only requires an assessment of potential impacts be taken and disseminated for public knowledge. NEPA is beneficial because it arms decision-makers with adequate knowledge of the impacts of their actions in the hopes that they will make educated decisions instead of discovering significant environmental impacts from actions taken after the fact.

It also warns the public of actions, and their potential impacts that are being considered by federal government, so that the public can monitor and object if necessary.

Today we learned about environmental policy and how different levels of government interact with it. We learned about three different approaches government can take with environmental policy: total free market, free market with some governmental control, and total government control. We learned about the different federal agencies in the United States that are currently responsible for environmental regulation, and NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act.

Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan