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Several legislative measures of the 1960s and early ‘70s marked a turning point in the U.S. approach to environmental protection, with none more significant than the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  This measure set forth specific requirements for consideration of potential environmental impacts of any proposed action, including proposed legislative action, and interpretation and administration of laws and regulations of the United States. It was this law which provided the framework for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Impact Statements (EIS).

NEPA was signed into law the same year as the first Earth Day, the latter an event built upon recognition that environmental protection is a global challenge which citizens can help to address. A half century ago, “Think globally – act locally”, became a popular rallying cry within the environmental movement. This concept was recognized in one paragraph of NEPA, with the following provision:

“Recognize the worldwide and long-range character of environmental problems and, where consistent with the foreign policy of the United States, lend appropriate support to initiatives, resolutions, and programs designed to maximize international cooperation in anticipating and preventing a decline in the quality of mankind’s world environment.”

However, specific requirements of NEPA make no further mention of environmental impacts of proposed actions beyond the borders of the U.S., nor any requirement to consider them. In fact, provisions of NEPA and subsequent guidance documents strongly suggest that analyses need focus on only local and national concerns. Consequently, an unfortunate result of NEPA has been the ongoing transfer of environmental impacts of U.S. consumption to other nations. This report explores the framework of NEPA and suggests a pathway to improvement of the integrity of U.S. environmental law and practices, and to more effective cooperation in addressing environmental protection at the global scale.

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