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Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT PROCESS

PROBLEMS WITH ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS

BIBLIOGRAPHY

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a planning tool that provides decision makers with an understanding of the potential effects that human actions, especially technological ones, may have on the environment. By understanding the potential environmental effects of an action, policymakers can choose which should proceed and which should not. Governments from around the world perform environmental impact assessments at the national, state or provincial, and local levels. The underlying assumption of all environmental impact assessments is that all human activity has the potential to affect the environment, and that knowledge concerning the environmental impact of a major decision will improve that decision. As part of an EIA, planners try to find the ways and the means to reduce the adverse impacts of the project and to shape projects to suit the local environment. EIAs can produce both environmental and economic benefits, such as reducing the costs and time needed for project implementation and design, avoiding treatment and clean-up costs, and alerting planners to any potential clashes with laws and regulations.

The original and probably best-known form of the EIA is the environmental impact statement (EIS) used by the U.S. government. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) mandates that an EIS must accompany every major federal action or nonfederal action with significant federal involvement within the United States. The precise definition of major and significant has been very contentious and has resulted in considerable litigation. The NEPA ensures that U.S. agencies give environmental factors the same consideration as any other factors in decision making.

Since 1970 dozens of other nations have established their own versions of an EIA, partly on their own and partly in response to the call of a number of international meetings. In particular, the seventeenth principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) is devoted to the creation of processes for environmental impact assessments by governments around the world.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT PROCESS

Most environmental impact assessments follow a process similar to the one mandated for the EIS, in which a lead agency collects and assimilates all the environmental information required for the EIS (Sullivan 2003). The first step in the process is to determine whether a complete EIS is required. When there is likely to be little impact, the lead agency can write an environmental assessment (EA), which is much simpler. In the late 1980s agencies annually prepared only 450 complete environmental impact statements, compared to an average of 15,000 environmental assessments (Gilpin 1995).

The first element of the actual EIS is scoping, where the lead agency identifies key issues and concerns of interested parties. A notice of the intent to conduct an EIS is published in the Federal Register and is sent to all potentially interested parties. Usually, the agency releases a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for comment. After interested parties and the general public have had the opportunity to comment on the draft, the agency releases the final environmental impact statement (FEIS).

In some instances, usually as the result of litigation or the availability of new information, the agency later releases a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS). Once all the protests are resolved the agency issues a record of decision, which is its final action prior to implementation.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), also mandated by the NEPA, sets the regulations that outline the format for the actual EIS. They mandate that an EIS should contain the impact of the proposed action, any adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided, any possible alternatives to the proposed action, and any irreversible commitments of resources that the action would require if it were implemented. All mitigation measures to address identified harms must also be included in the EIS. Throughout the EIS process, the public must have opportunities for participation (Sullivan 2003). In 1994 President Bill Clinton issued an executive order adding environmental justice issues to the EIS process.

PROBLEMS WITH ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS

One of the problems with environmental impact assessments is that in many cases, after the factors have been analyzed, there is little to force the actors to change their decisions. Once the EIA is complete, the action can go forward regardless of any negative environmental consequences. In the case of the EIS, the NEPA provides no enforcement provisions, though various court decisions have held that an EIS must be done and that it should be used to inform decision makers of potential environmental problems. However, at present nothing requires planners to change their decisions based on an EISs findings, nor is there any penalty for ignoring an EIS. In the early 1970s groups trying to stop an action used EISes to initiate numerous lawsuits. At the end of the 1970s the U.S. Supreme Court in Vermont Yankee v. NRDC (1978) reversed two district court decisions remanding the NRC for not addressing environmental issues adequately in their EIS. This decision limited the ability of district courts to reverse agency decisions (Vig and Kraft 2000). By the end of the 1980s the federal courts consistently declined to hear lawsuits on environmental issues if the EISes were properly done. According to the courts, planners may elect to include or exclude EIS findings from their projects, and if they choose to ignore it, others have a right to bring pressure on them. The CEQ cannot stop an action, but it can delay it by requesting further reassessment.

Another problem with the creation of EIAs springs from the uncertainty surrounding some situations. Uncertainty may come from a lack of scientific understanding of an issue or from the nature of the information required. The issues may be extremely complex, or may deal with timescales that create potential problems for understanding the issue. For example, the proposed nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada requires the consideration of environmental changes at the site over a 10,000-year period. The Yucca Mountain case also provides an example of another problemthe quality of the information used in creating an EIS. It was discovered that the researchers doing the assessment at Yucca Mountain manufactured some of the information they used for the EIS; a subsequent government study ruled that even though the data was suspect, the overall decision based on it was sound (Department of Energy 2006). For some governments around the world, the lack of resources and skilled personnel create problems for producing a quality EIA.

This is not to say that identifying environmental issues has no effect on the decision-making process. A number of studies have shown that EISes force greater environmental awareness and more careful planning by federal agencies (Vig and Kraft 2000). The very fact that the information exists means it plays a role. The EIS is circulated among state, local, and federal agencies and the public. Because of this circulation, the EIS can become an early warning system for environmental groups, alerting them of potential issues for their consideration (Rosenbaum 2005). The identification of potential problems has motivated public support against actions and led to rethinking of initial plans. Having the information is better than not having information, even though it may not be used.

SEE ALSO Decision-making; Disaster Management; Love Canal; Planning; Pollution; Resource Economics; Resources; Uncertainty

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Department of Energy. 2006. Evaluation of Technical Impact on the Yucca Mountain Project Technical Basis Resulting from Issues Raised by Emails of Former Project Participants. DOE/RW-0583 QA:N/A, April.

Gilpin, Alan. 1995. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Cutting Edge for the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2005. Environmental Politics and Policy. 6th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Sullivan, Thomas F. P. 2003. Environmental Law Handbook. 17th ed. Rockville, MD: ABS Consulting Government Institutes.

Vig, Norman J., and Michael E. Kraft. 2000. Environmental Policy. 4th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Franz Foltz

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Environmental Impact Statement

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requires that federal agencies prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) indicating, for any legislation or action that they propose, that the agencies have investigated and considered the possible environmental consequences.

NEPA was a response to widespread concerns that the environment was being endangered by projects in which federal agencies were involved in various ways. Its passage established a precedent subsequently followed by requirements in more than forty other countries that similar environmental impact assessments be conducted. The purpose of the act was to "encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality."

In passing NEPA, Congress declared "that each person should enjoy a healthful environment" as an aim of compliance with the NEPA. The act did not mandate any particular decision, only that the facts concerning environmental consequences of proposed actions be determined and taken into account. It did require "utiliz[ing] a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and decision making which may have an impact on man's environment." The impact on human health must be included along with consideration of physical, biological, social, and economic factors.

The EIS process in the United States has significantly influenced decision making by allowing:(1) public participation in commenting on draft EISs, which permits environmental advocates, industrial groups, and others to make their voices heard, and (2) litigation originating from any of the affected parties challenging the decisions made. Thus, besides delineating the facts about potential environmental impacts and considering them in making decisions, the federal agencies must take into account public reaction and legal issues.

As many countries have joined the effort, an internationally related move toward environmental protection has been to prepare covenants among different nations on such issues. One example is the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Even though the Kyoto Protocol is in serious jeopardy, such international moves could eventually carry substantial force for environmental protection.

Lester Breslow

(see also: Climate Change and Human Health; Environmental Protection Agency; Environmental Movement; Pollution; Sustainable Development )

Bibliography

Caldwell, L. K. (1982). Science and the National Environmental Policy Act. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.

Vig, N. J., and Kraft, M. E. (1994). Environmental Policy in the 1990s. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.

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Environmental Impact Statement

Environmental Impact Statement


The U.S. National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) requires that all federal agencies prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to making decisions that could have a significant impact on the environment. An EIS includes a description of the proposed action; alternatives to the action, including the "null" (no action) alternative; a description of the environmental context; expected impacts and irreversible use of resources; and ways to potentially lessen such impact. Impacts are broadly defined to include discussion of natural systems, human health, and the man-made environment. A draft EIS is then circulated to government agencies, in some cases Native-American tribes, and other interested parties for comment. The final EIS must include responses to any substantive comments received on the draft.

For the sake of efficiency and improved public participation, regulatory agencies frequently combine pollution-release permit review with the EIS process. Impact mitigation that is within the scope of the regulation, such as water discharges, can be required as an enforceable condition of the permit. From the outset of NEPA, courts have held that citizens and environmental groups have "standing" to challenge the adequacy of an EIS. This potential for protracted litigation provides the incentive for involving interest groups throughout the decision process. Many states and countries have adopted EIS requirements similar to those of NEPA.

see also Activism; Environmental Movement; Environmental Protection Agency; Industry; Laws and Regulations, International; Laws and Regulations, United States; National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Public Participation; Systems Theory.

Internet Resource

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). NEPA Web site. Available from http://tis.eh.doe.gov/nepa.

John P. Felleman

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environmental impact statement

environmental impact statement, analysis of the impact that a proposed development, usually industrial, will have on the natural and social environment. It includes assessment of long- and short-term effects on the physical environment, such as air, water, and noise pollution, as well as effects on employment, living standards, local services, and aesthetics. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 as well as many state and local laws enacted during the late 1960s and early 1970s mandate that these statements be completed before major development projects can begin.

Federal-level environmental impact statements are written by any federal agency on its own behalf or on behalf of a state, local, or private concern that it regulates or funds. Because of the complexity of the environment and the many ways any one project might impinge upon it, the authors of an environmental impact statement usually represent many areas of expertise and may include biologists, sociologists, economists, and engineers. The types of projects covered include dredging, highway or dam construction, and real estate development. A draft statement is submitted to concerned government agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, and to the public for consideration. In some cases litigation arises from environmental groups who want to block a project or from parties who feel that the assessment overstates the risks to the environment to the detriment of economic interests.

See R. K. Jain, L. V. Urban, and G. S. Stacey, Environmental Impact Analysis (2d ed. 1981).

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environmental-impact assessment

environmental-impact assessment (EIA, environmental-impact statement) An attempt to identify and to predict the impact on the biogeophysical environment and on human health and well-being of proposed industrial developments, projects, or legislation. EIA also aims to devise easily comprehended, universally applicable schemes for communicating the results of the assessment.

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environmental impact assessment

environmental impact assessment (EIA, environmental impact statement) An attempt to identify and predict the impact on the biogeophysical environment and on human health and well-being of proposed industrial developments, projects, or legislation. EIA also aims to devise easily comprehended, universally applicable schemes for communicating the results of the assessment.

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"environmental impact assessment." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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environmental impact statement

environmental impact statement See environmental impact assessment.

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