Commonly Used NEPA Terms

Term Definition
Action Alternative An action alternative is an alternative other than the No Action Alternative analyzed in an EIS. The action alternatives in an EIS comprise the range of reasonable alternatives.
Affected Environment The physical, biological, and human-related environment that is sensitive to changes resulting from the proposed action. The extent of the affected environment may not be the same for all potentially affected resource areas (40 CFR 1502.15).
Cooperating Agency Any federal agency other than the lead agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved in proposed legislation, a proposed action or reasonable alternative. Cooperating agencies may include a state or local agency with similar qualifications at the invitation of the lead federal agency.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Established under Title II of NEPA to develop federal agency-wide policy and regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA, resolve interagency disagreements concerning proposed major federal actions, and to ensure that federal agency programs and procedures are in compliance with NEPA.
Cumulative Effect The incremental environmental impact or effect of the proposed action, together with impacts of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions, regardless of what agency (federal or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative effects can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time (40 CFR 1508.7).
Environmental Consequences Environmental effects of project alternatives, including the proposed action, any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided, the relationship between short-term uses of the human environment, and any irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved if the proposal should be implemented (40 CFR 1502.16).
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) A document providing full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts for a proposed action and informing decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. A federal agency must prepare an EIS when a proposed action or program constitutes a major federal action that may have significant impacts to the natural or human environment (40 CFR Parts 1500–1508 and DOE 10 CFR Part 1021).
Impact (Effect) A direct result of an action which occurs at the same time and place; or an indirect result of an action which occurs later in time or in a different place and is reasonably foreseeable; or the cumulative results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency or person undertakes such other actions (40 CFR 1508.8).
Mitigation Planning actions taken to avoid an impact altogether to minimize the degree or magnitude of the impact, reduce the impact over time, rectify the impact, or compensate for the impact (40 CFR 1508.20).
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) Requires all agencies to examine the environmental impacts of their actions, incorporate environmental information, and utilize public participation in the planning and implementation of all actions. Federal agencies must integrate NEPA with other planning requirements and prepare appropriate NEPA documents to facilitate better environmental decision making. NEPA requires federal agencies to review and comment on federal agency environmental plans/documents when the agency has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impacts involved (42 U.S.C. 4321-4327) (40 CFR 1500-1508).
No Action Alternative Alternative where current conditions and trends are projected into the future without another proposed action. The No Action Alternative provides a benchmark, enabling decision makers to compare the magnitude of environmental effects of the action alternatives (40 CFR 1502.14(d)).
Notice of Intent (NOI) A notice that an EIS will be prepared and considered (40 CFR 1508.22).
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) An evaluation of the potential environmental consequences of implementing a new federal program on a national or programmatic scale.
Proposed Action Activity proposed to accomplish a federal agency’s purpose and need. An EIS analyzes the environmental impacts of the proposed action. A plan that contains sufficient details about the intended actions to be taken, or that will result, to allow alternatives to be developed and its environmental impacts analyzed (40 CFR 1508.23).
Reasonably Foreseeable Future actions for which there is a reasonable expectation that the action could occur, such as a proposed action under analysis by a state or federal agency, a project for which construction has started, or an action that has obtained the necessary regulatory approvals or has funding committed to the action.
Record of Decision (ROD) A concise public document that records a federal agency’s decision(s) concerning a proposed action for which the agency has prepared an EIS. A ROD identifies the alternatives considered in reaching the decision, the environmentally preferable alternative(s), factors balanced by the agency in making the decision, whether all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm have been adopted, and if not, why they were not (40 CFR 1505.2).
Relationship of Short-Term Uses and Long-Term Productivity The balance or trade-off between short-term uses and long-term productivity need to be defined in relation to the proposed activity in question. Each resource, of necessity, has to be provided with its own definitions of short- term and long-term (40 CFR 1502.16).
Scope The range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be considered in an EIS (40 CFR 1508.25).
Scoping Process used to identify the scope and significance of issues related to a proposed action while involving the public and other key stakeholders in developing alternatives and weighing the importance of issues to be analyzed in the EIS (40 CFR 1501.7).
Significant Use in NEPA requires consideration of both context and intensity (40 CFR 1508.27): Context - significance of an action must be analyzed in its current and proposed short-and long-term effects on the whole of a given resource (e.g.-affected region) and Intensity – refers to the severity of the effect.
Tiering The coverage of general matters in broader EIS with a subsequent narrower EIS(s) or EA(s) incorporating the general discussion by reference and concentrating solely on the issues specific to the subsequent EIS(s) or EA(s).
Unavoidable Adverse Effects Effects that cannot be avoided due to constraints in alternatives. These effects do not have to be avoided by the planning agency, but they must be disclosed, discussed, and mitigated, if possible (40 CFR 1500.2(e)).

Commonly Used Biofuels Terms

Term Definition
Alternative Fuels A popular term for "non-conventional" transportation fuels derived from natural gas (propane, compressed natural gas, methanol, etc.) or biomass materials (such as ethanol and methanol).
Bioenergy The conversion of complex carbohydrates in organic material into energy.
Biofuel Fuels made from biomass resources or their processing and conversion derivatives. Biofuels may include ethanol, biodiesel, and methanol.
Biotechnology The science of modifying the genetic composition of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Historically, biotechnology has relied on conventional plant and animal breeding practices to modify genetic composition.
Cellulose A carbohydrate that is the principal component of wood. It is made of linked glucose molecules (a six-carbon sugar) that strengthen the cell walls of most plants.
Conventional Fuel Fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.
Crop Residue Plant material remaining after harvesting, including leaves, stalks, and roots.
Engineered High Energy Crops (EHECs) Plants specifically engineered for increased energy production. EHECs are agriculturally-viable photosynthetic species that contain genetic material that has been intentionally introduced through biotechnology, interspecific hybridization or other engineering processes (excluding processes that occur in nature without human intervention); and are intended to produce more energy per acre by producing fuel molecules that can easily be introduced into existing energy infrastructure.
Energy Crops Crops grown specifically for their fuel value. These include food crops such as corn and sugarcane, and non-food crops such as poplar trees and switchgrass.
Field trial Experiments conducted to evaluate the performance of a new technique or crop variety, including biotech-derived varieties, outside the laboratory (in the field) with specific requirements on location, plot size, methodology, etc. and under stringent terms and conditions that confine the experimental crop.
Fossil fuels Remains of dead plants and animals of a previous geologic era that can be burned to release energy. It takes millions of years to form fossil fuels. Examples of fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas.
Fuel Any material that can be burned to make energy.
Gene The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity. A gene is typically a specific segment of a chromosome and encodes a specific functional product (such as a protein or RNA molecule).
Genetic engineering Manipulation of an organism's genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology. (Biotechnology)
Genetic modification The production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) Organisms whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) Those gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), tropospheric ozone, methane, and low level ozone that are transparent to solar radiation, but opaque to long wave radiation, and which contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Herbaceous energy crops Perennial non-woody crops that are harvested annually, though they may take two to three years to reach full productivity. Examples include: switchgrass, reed canarygrass, miscanthus, and giant cane.
Herbaceous plants Non-woody species of vegetation usually of low lignin content such as grasses.
Hybrid Offspring of any cross between two organisms of different genotypes.
Interspecific Hybridization The process of mating two species, normally from within the same genus. Offspring display traits and characteristics of both parents, and are very often sterile; thus, hybrid sterility prevents the movement of genes from one species to the other, keeping both species distinct.
Invasive species Plant or animal that is not native to an ecosystem and which causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Lignin A complex chemical compound that is an integral part of the cell wall of wood and vascular plants, making them firm and rigid. Produces energy in the form of electricity when burned.
Native species A species that, with respect to a particular ecosystem, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.
Petroleum Substance comprising a complex blend of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil through the process of separation, conversion, upgrading, and finishing, including motor fuel, jet oil, lubricants, petroleum solvents, and used oil.
Photosynthesis A complex process used by many plants and bacteria to build carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water, using energy derived from light. Photosynthesis is the key initial step in the growth of biomass and is depicted by the equation:
CO2 + H2O + light + chlorophyll = (CH2O) + O2
Prime and Unique Farmland Land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops, and is also available for these uses (land could be cropland, pastureland, rangeland, forest land, or other land, but not urban built-up land or water). Unique farmland is land other than prime farmland that is used for the production of specific high value food and fiber crops (7 CFR 657.5).
Renewable Energy Energy derived from resources that are regenerative or for all practical purposes cannot be depleted. Types of renewable energy resources include moving water (hydro, tidal, and wave power); thermal gradients in ocean water; biomass; geothermal energy; solar energy; and wind energy. Municipal solid wastes are also considered to be a renewable energy resource.
Sustainable An ecosystem condition in which biodiversity, renewability, and resource productivity are maintained over time.
Variety A subdivision of a species for taxonomic classification also referred to as a 'cultivar.' A variety is a group of individual plants that is uniform, stable, and distinct genetically from other groups of individuals in the same species.