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U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

National Environmental Policy Act in Brief

The USDA Forest Service proposed updates would create a new set of categorical exclusions, amend some existing ones and add other tools to increase efficiency and improve forest conditions while protecting people, property and resources.

There are three levels of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. They include categorical exclusion, environmental assessment, and environmental impact statement.

What is a categorical exclusion?

A categorical exclusion (CE) is a category that the agency has determined does not have significant impacts on the environment. Agencies develop a list of these categorical exclusions when they develop or revise their NEPA regulations. A categorical exclusion is based on an agency’s experience with a particular kind of action and its environmental effects. The agency may have studied the action in previous environmental assessments, found no significant impact on the environment, and validated that finding after the project is complete. If this type of action may be repeated over time, the agency may decide to amend their regulations to include the action as a categorical exclusion.

If a proposed action does not qualify for a categorical exclusion or there is uncertainty about how it would affect the environment, the Forest Service performs an environmental assessment to determine if there are significant environmental impacts. If not, the agency would issue a “finding of no significant impact.” However, if there may be significant impacts, the agency is then required to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS).

More information on the National Environmental Policy Act is available at the Council on Environmental Quality’s website. There is also a graphic illustrating the NEPA process and a Citizen’s Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) available for download.