Much environmental planning and regulation must be done at the national level because of the scale of the problems and the great distances pollutants can travel through the environment. Local environmental planning often takes place within a framework of federal grants and regulations. Concern with environmental problems grew rapidly in the United States during the 1960s, culminating in the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, and the passage of a number of other major pieces of national environmental legislation in the 1970s. The passage of NEPA produced a massive increase in the number of planners and firms specializing in environmental planning because of NEPA's requirements for environmental impact statements (EIS) as a prerequisite for the federal funding of large projects.
At the national level, environmental planning involves the establishment of standards and the funding of such activities as the construction of wastewater treatment facilities. At the local level, much activity is related to federal legislation and funding (for example, EISs), or to planning for projects that involve joint local and federal funding, such as wastewater treatment. However, much to enhance environmental quality can also be done at the purely local level, including controls on the intensity of development, the type of development, the pattern of public capital investment, and regulation of the character of development and operation.
Energy planning arose with the oil price increases that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The original concern of the energy planner was largely a matter of energy costs. In recent years the focus has shifted to the reduction of fossil fuel use to limit the production of greenhouse gases.
At the local level, reductions in the consumption of nonrenewable energy may be achieved by urban design that reduces trip lengths and facilitates public transportation or the use of nonautomotive modes (foot or bicycle). Energy savings can be achieved by site design, doing new construction to high standards of energy efficiency, and retrofitting older structures. The green building movement has gained strength as concern with climate change has increased and was given a substantial push by federal funding provided in the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. Fossil fuel consumption can also be reduced by the development of community energy systems and the promotion of alternative sources such as roof-top solar.