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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 statement

environmental impact statement See environmental impact assessment.

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Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental impact assessment


A written analysis or process that describes and details the probable and possible effects of planned industrial or civil project activities on the ecosystem , resources, and environment . The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) first promulgated guidelines for environmental impact assessments with the intention that the environment receive proper emphasis among social, economic, and political priorities in governmental decision-making. This act required environmental impact assessments for major federal actions affecting the environment. Many states now have similar requirements for state and private activities. Such written assessments are called Environmental Impact Statements or EISs.

EISs range from brief statements to extremely detailed multi-volume reports that require many years of data collection and analysis. In general, the environmental impact assessment process requires consideration and evaluation of the proposed project, its impacts, alternatives to the project, and mitigating strategies designed to reduce the severity of adverse effects. The assessments are completed by multidisciplinary teams in government agencies and consulting firms. The experience of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in detailing the impacts of projects such as dams and waterways is particularly noteworthy, as the Corps has developed comprehensive methodologies to assess impacts of such major and complex projects. These include evaluation of direct environmental impacts as well as social and economic ramifications.

The content of the assessments generally follows guidelines in the National Environmental Policy Act. Assessments usually include the following sections:

  • Background information describing the affected population and the environmental setting, including archaeological and historical features, public utilities, cultural and social values, topography , hydrology , geology and soil , climatology, natural resources , and terrestrial and aquatic communities;
  • Description of the proposed action detailing its purpose, location, time frame, and relationship to other projects;
  • The environmental impacts of proposed action on natural resources, ecological systems, population density, distribution and growth rate, land use , and human health. These impacts should be described in detail and include primary and secondary impacts, beneficial and adverse impacts, short and long term effects, the rate of recovery, and importantly, measures to reduce or eliminate adverse effects;
  • Adverse impacts that cannot be avoided are described in detail, including a description of their magnitude and implications;
  • Alternatives to the project are described and evaluated. These must include the "no action" alternative. A comparative analysis of alternatives permits the assessment of environmental benefits, risks, financial benefits and costs, and overall effectiveness;
  • The reason for selecting the proposed action is justified as a balance between risks, impacts, costs, and other factors relevant to the project;
  • The relationship between short and long term uses and maintenance is described, with the intent of detailing short and long term gains and losses;
  • Reversible and irreversible impacts;
  • Public participation in the process is described;
  • Finally, the EIS includes a discussion of problems and issues raised by interested parties, such as specific federal, state, or local agencies, citizens, and activists.

The environmental impact assessment process provides a wealth of detailed technical information. It has been effective in stopping, altering, or improving some projects. However, serious questions have been raised about the adequacy and fairness of the process. For example, assessments may be too narrow or may not have sufficient depth. The alternatives considered may reflect the judgment of decisionmakers who specify objectives, the study design, and the alternatives considered. Difficult and important questions exist regarding the balance of environmental, economic, and other interests. Finally, these issues often take place in a politicized and highly-charged atmosphere that may not be amenable to negotiation. Despite these and other limitations, environmental impact assessments help to provide a systematic approach to sharing information that can improve public decision-making.

See also Risk assessment

[Stuart Batterman ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Rau, J., and D. G. Wooten, eds. Environmental Impact Analysis Handbook. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1980.

OTHER

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as Amended, P.L. 91-140 (1 January 1970), amended P.L. 94-83 (9 August 1975).

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Environmental Impact Assessment

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a means for understanding the potential effects that a human action, especially a technological one, may have on the natural environment. It allows for the inclusion of environmental factors in making decisions by mandating a process for determining the range of environmental issues related to a particular action. The underlying assumption of an EIA is that all human activity has the potential to affect the environment to some degree, so that all major decisions should include environmental, as well as economic and political, factors. Understanding the potential environmental effects of an action helps policymakers choose which actions should proceed and which should not.

Many governments perform EIAs at the national, state, and local levels. Probably the best-known form of the EIA is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the United States government. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) mandates an EIS to accompany every major federal action or nonfederal action with significant federal involvement. NEPA tries to ensure that U.S. federal agencies give environmental factors the same consideration as other factors in decision making.

Most EIAs follow a process similar to the one mandated for the EIS. The first step is the preparation of an environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether the environmental impact of the action requires a complete EIS. The actual EIS begins by identifying issues and soliciting comments on the scope of the action, alternatives, and various impacts that the EIS should address. Then the lead agency collects and assimilates all the environmental information required for the EIS. In the United States, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations outline the recommended format for the EIS. The EIS must include public involvement throughout the process. All mitigation measures to address identified harms must be included in the EIS.

The primary problem of environmental impact assessments is that once the environmental factors have been analyzed there is little to force the actors to actually use the information in decision making. When the EIA is complete, the action can go forward regardless of any negative environmental consequences. In the case of the EIS, NEPA provides no enforcement provisions, though various court decisions have developed some such mechanisms. Decision makers are informed of potential environmental problems and can include environmental issues in making their decisions, but nothing requires them to nor is there any penalty for ignoring the environmental impact.

This is not to say that identifying environmental issues has no effect on the process. The fact that the information exists means it plays a role. Decision makers must elect to include or exclude it from their project. If they choose to ignore the information, others have a right to bring pressure on them. The identification of potential problems has sometimes motivated public criticism of planned actions and led to their rethinking. The existence of the information creates a better situation than not having the information at all.

FRANZ ALLEN FOLTZ

SEE ALSO Environmental Regulation; Pollution; Waste; Water.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sullivan, Thomas F. P. (2003). Environmental Law Handbook, 17th edition. Rockville, MD: Government Institutes.

INTERNET RESOURCE

Council on Environmental Quality. Available from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ceq/.

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Environmental Impact Statement

Environmental Impact Statement


The National Environmental Policy Act (1969) made all federal agencies responsible for analyzing any activity of theirs "significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are the assessments stipulated by this act, and these reports are required for all large projects initiated, financed, or permitted by the federal government. In addition to examining the damage a particular project might have on the environment , federal agencies are also expected to review ways of minimizing or alleviating these adverse effects a review which can include consideration of the environmental benefits of abandoning the project altogether. The agency compiling an EIS is required to hold public hearings; it is also required to submit a draft to public review, and it is forbidden from proceeding until it releases a final version of the statement.

The NEPA has been called "the first comprehensive commitment of any modern state toward the responsible custody of its environment," and the EIS is considered one of the most important mechanisms for its enforcement. It is often difficult to identify environmental damages with remedies that can be pursued in court, but the filing of an EIS and the standards the document must meet are clear and definite requirements for which federal agencies can be held accountable. These requirements have allowed environmental groups to focus legal challenges on the adequacy of the report, contesting the way an EIS was prepared or identifying environmental effects that were not taken into account. The expense and the delays involved in defending against these challenges have often given these groups powerful leverage for convincing a company or an agency to change or omit particular elements of a project. Many environmental organizations have taken advantage of these opportunities; between 1974 and 1983, over 100 such suits were filed every year.

Although litigation over impact statements can have a decisive influence on a wide range of decisions in government and business, the legal status of these reports and the legal force of the NEPA itself are not as strong as many environmentalists believe they should be. The act does not require agencies to limit or prevent the potential environmental damage identified in an EIS. The Supreme Court upheld this interpretation in 1989, deciding that agencies are "not constrained by NEPA from deciding that other values outweigh the environmental costs." The government, in other words, is required only to identify and evaluate the adverse impacts of proposed projects; it is not required, at least by NEPA, to do anything about them. Environmentalists have long argued that environmental protection needs a stronger legal grounding than this act provides; some such as Lynton Caldwell, who was originally involved in the drafting of the NEPA, maintain that only a constitutional amendment will serve this purpose.

In addition to the controversies over what should be included in these reports and what should be done about the information, there have also been a number of debates over who is required to file them. Environmental groups have filed suit in the Pacific Northwest alleging that the government should require logging companies to file impact statements. And many people have observed that an EIS is not actually required of all government agencies; the U. S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, is not required to file such reports on its commodity support programs.

Impact statements have been opposed by business and industrial groups since they were first introduced. An EIS can be extremely costly to compile, and the process of filing and defending them can take years. Businesses can be left in limbo over projects in which they have already invested large amounts of money, and the uncertainties of the process itself have often stopped development before it has begun. In the debate about these statements, many advocates for business interests have pointed out that environmental regulation accounts for 23% of the 400 billion dollars the federal government spends on regulation each year. They argue that impact statements restrict the ability of the United States to compete in international markets by forcing American businesses to spend money on compliance that could be invested in research or capital improvements. Many people believe that impact statements seriously delay many aspects of economic growth, and business leaders have questioned the priorities of many environmental groups, who seem to value conservation over social benefits such as high-levels of employment.

In July of 1993, a judge in a federal district court ruled that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could not be submitted to Congress for approval until the Clinton Administration had filed an EIS on the treaty. The controversy over whether an EIS should be required for NAFTA is a good example of the battle between those who want to extend the range of the EIS and those who want to limit it, as well as the practical problems with positions held by both sides.

Environmentalists fear the consequences of free trade in North America, particularly free trade with Mexico. They believe that most industries would not take any precautions about the environment unless they were forced to observe them. Environmental protection in Mexico, when it exists, is corrupt and inefficient; if NAFTA is approved by Congress, many believe that businesses in the United States will move south of the border to escape environmental regulations. This could have devastating consequences for the environment in Mexico, as well as an adverse impact on the United States economy. It is also possible that an extensive economic downturn, if perceived to be the result of such relocations, could affect the future of environmental regulation in this country as the United States begins to compete with Mexico over the incentives it can offer industry.

Opponents of the decision to require an EIS for NAFTA insist that such a document would be almost impossible to compile. The statement would have to be enormously complex; it would have to consider a range of economic as well as environmental factors, projecting the course of economic development in Mexico before predicting the impact on the environment. Extending the range of impact statements and the NEPA would cause the same expensive delays for this treaty that these statutes have caused for projects within the United States, and critics have focused mainly on the effect such an extension would have on our international competitiveness. They argue that this decision, if upheld, could have broad ramifications for American foreign policy. An EIS could be required for every treaty the government signs with another country, including negotiations over fishing rights, arms control treaties, and other trade agreements. Foreign policy decisions could then be subject to extensive litigation over the adequacy of the EIS filed by the appropriate agency. Many environmentalists would view this as a positive development, but others believe it could prevent us from assuming a leadership role in international affairs.

Carol Browner , the former chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that the agency was determined to reduce some of the difficulties of complying with environmental regulations. She was especially concerned with increasing efficiency and limiting the delays and uncertainties for business. But whatever changes she was able to make, the process of compiling an EIS will never seem cost effective to business, at least in the short term, and the controversy over these statements continues.

See also Economic growth and the environment; Environmental auditing; Environmental economics; Environmental impact assessment; Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program; Environmental policy; Life-cycle assessment; Risk analysis; Sustainable development

[Douglas Smith ]


RESOURCES

PERIODICALS

Burck, C. "Surprise Judgement on NAFTA." Fortune 128 (July 26, 1993): 12.

Davies, J. "Suit Threatens Washington State Industry." Journal of Commerce 390 (October 21, 1991): 9A.

Dentzer, S. "Hasta la Vista in Court, Baby." U.S. News and World Report 115 (12 July 1993): 47.

Ember, L. "EPA's Browner to Take Holistic Approach to Environmental Protection." Chemical and Engineering News 71 (1 March 1993): 19.

Gregory, R., R. Keeney, and D. von Wintervelt. "Adapting the Environmental Impact Statement Process to Inform Decisionmakers." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (Winter 1992): 58.

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Environmental Impact Statement

Environmental Impact Statement

Environmental impact assessment

Conducting an environmental impact assessment

Environmental effects monitoring

Resources

In the United States, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any major project or legislative proposal that may have significant environmental effects. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

An EIS requires a federal agency to consider the environmental consequences of a proposed project, including air, water, and soil pollution; ecosystem disruption; overuse of shared water, fishery, agricultural, mineral, and forest resources; disruption of endangered species habitat; and threats to human health. While an EIS prompts an organization to disclose the environmental effects of their project before beginning construction or development, and to suggest ways to avoid adverse impacts, the document does not, in itself, prevent federal agencies from polluting, or otherwise endangering ecological and human health. An EIS is intended to help federal regulators and environmental compliance agencies determine whether the proposed development will violate environmental laws. United States environmental policy does not require corporations or individuals to file EIS documents, but it does expect private sector developments to comply with federal, state and local environmental and public health regulations.

Environmental impact assessment

In order to prepare an EIS, federal agencies must fully assess the environmental setting and potential effects of a project. Corporations and individuals must likewise determine whether their businesses and residences meet the environmental standards required by their national, state and local governments. Environmental impact assessment is a process that can be used to identify and estimate the potential environmental consequences of proposed developments and policies. Environmental impact assessment is a highly interdisciplinary process, involving inputs from many fields in the sciences and social sciences. Environmental impact assessments commonly examine ecological, physical/chemical, sociological, economic, and other environmental effects. Many nations require the equivalent of an EIS for projects proposed by their federal agencies, and almost all countries have environmental laws. Environmental assessment is a tool used by developers and civil planners in the U.S., Europe, and in some other parts of the world. Governmental agencies, like the EPA in the United States, typically provide guidelines for risk assessment procedures and regulations, but the financial and legal responsibility to conduct a thorough environmental assessment rests with the agency, corporation, or individual proposing the project.

Environmental assessments may be conducted to review the potential effects of: (1) individual projects, such as the construction of a particular power plant, incinerator, airport, or housing development; (2) integrated development schemes, or proposals to develop numerous projects in some area. Examples include an industrial park, or an integrated venture to harvest, manage, and process a natural resource, such as a pulp mill with its associated wood-supply and forest-management plans; or (3) government policies that carry a risk of having substantial environmental effects. Examples include decisions to give national priority to the generation of electricity using nuclear reactors, or to clear large areas of natural forest to develop new lands for agricultural use. Government agencies and businesses proposing large projects usually hire an independent environmental consulting firm to conduct environmental risk assessments, and to preview the possible environmental, legal, health, safety, and civil engineering ramifications of their development plan. Environmental consultants also perform scientific environmental monitoring at existing sites, and, if necessary, recommend methods of cleaning up environmental contamination and damage caused by non-compliant projects.

Any project, scheme, or policy can potentially cause an extraordinary variety of environmental and ecological changes. Consequently, it is rarely practical to consider all a proposals potential effects in an environmental impact assessment. Usually certain indicators, called valued ecosystem components (VECs), are selected for study on the basis of their importance to society. VECs are often identified through consultations with government regulators, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and the public. Commonly examined VECs include: (1) resources that are economically important, such as agricultural or forest productivity, and populations of hunted fish or game; (2) rare or endangered species and natural ecosystems; (3) particular species, communities, or landscapes that are of cultural or aesthetic importance; (4) resources whose quality directly affects human health, including drinking water, urban air, and agricultural soil; and (5) simple indicators of a complex of ecological values. The spotted owl (strix occidentalis ), for example, is an indicator of the integrity of certain types of old-growth coniferforests in western North America. Proposed activities, like commercial forestry, that threaten a population of these birds also imperil the larger, old-growth forest ecosystem. Determination of VECs usually requires a site-specific scientific characterization and survey of the proposed development.

Conducting an environmental impact assessment

Risk assessment is the first phase of an environmental impact assessment. Environmental risk characterization is accomplished by predicting a proposed developments potential stressors at the site over time, and comparing these effects with the known boundaries of VECs. This is a preliminary reconnaissance exercise that may require environmental scientists to judge the severity and importance of potential interactions between stressors and VECs. It is highly desirable to undertake field, laboratory, or simulation research to determine the risks of interactions identified during preliminary screening. However, even the most thorough environmental assessments usually present an incomplete characterization of a sites VECs and potential impacts. Inadequate time and funds often further constrain impact assessments.

Once potentially important risks to VECs are identified and studied, it is possible to consider various planning options. EIS documentation requires both environmental assessment and an explanation of planned responses to environmental impacts. During the planning stage of the impact assessment, environmental specialists provide objective information and professional opinions to project managers. There are three broad types of planning responses to environmental impacts:

(1) The predicted damages can be avoided by halting the development, or by modifying its structure. Avoidance is often disfavored by proponents of a development because irreconcilable conflicts with environmental quality can result in substantial costs, including canceled projects. Regulators and politicians also tend to have an aversion to this option, as lost socioeconomic opportunities and unfinished projects are generally unpopular.

(2) Mitigations can be designed and implemented to prevent or significantly reduce damages to VECs. For examples, acidification of a lake by industrial dumping could be mitigated by adding carbonate to the lake, a development that threatens the habitat of an endangered species could suggest moving the population to another site, or a proposed coal-fired generating station could offset its carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees. Mitigations are popular ways of resolving conflicts between project-related stressors and VECs. However, mitigations are risky because ecological and environmental knowledge is inherently incomplete, and many mitigation schemes fail to properly protect the VEC. Moving a population of animals from its home habit, for instance, usually results in mortality of the animals.

KEY TERMS

Environmental impact assessment A process by which the potential environmental consequences of proposed activities or policies are presented and considered.

Mitigation This is a strategy intended to reduce the intensity of environmental damages associated with a stressor. Mitigations are the most common mechanisms by which conflicts between stressors and valued ecosystem components are resolved during environmental impact assessments.

(3) A third planning response is to allow the projected environmental damages to occur, and to accept the degradation as an unfortunate cost of achieving the projects perceived socioeconomic benefits. This choice is common, because not all environmental damages can be avoided or mitigated, and many damaging activities can yield large, short-term profits.

It is nearly impossible to carry out large industrial or economic developments without causing some environmental damage. However, a properly conducted impact assessment can help decision makers understand the dimensions and importance of that damage, and to decide whether they are acceptable.

Environmental effects monitoring

Once an environmental assessment has been completed, and federal projects have filed an approved EIS, the project or policy may proceed. When the development is completed, the associated environmental stresses begin to affect species, ecosystems, and socioeconomic systems. The actual effects of a project must then be monitored to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, to observe and mitigate any unforeseen consequences, and to compare real damages to predicted ones. Monitoring might include measuring levels of chemical emissions into the air, water, or soil, observing the response of plants and animals at the site, or surveying the health of employees and nearby residents of the site. Socioeconomic impacts, like increased traffic congestion, or water availability for surrounding agricultural and municipal interests, are also including in appropriate monitoring schemes. Predictions set out in the pre-development environmental impact assessment usually determine the structure of monitoring programs. Monitoring programs must be flexible and adaptive, because surprises, or unpredicted environmental changes, often occur. In this sense, environmental impact assessment is an ongoing process that extends over the lifetime of a development.

See also Air pollution; Ecological economics; Ecological integrity; Ecological monitoring; Ecological productivity; Environmental ethics.

Resources

BOOKS

Gilpin, Alan. Environmental Impact Assessment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Noble, Bram F. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.

Ramachandra, T. V. Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2006.

OTHER

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Management. <http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/environmentalmanagement.html> (accessed October 30, 2006).

United States Environmental Protection Agency. National Center for Environmental Assessment. September 19, 2001. <http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/> (accessed October 30, 2006).

Laurie Duncan

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Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

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Environmental Impact Statement

Environmental impact statement

In the United States, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any major project or legislative proposal that may have significant environmental effects. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)." An EIS requires a federal agency to consider the environmental consequences of a proposed project, including air, water , and soil pollution ; ecosystem disruption; overuse of shared water, fishery, agricultural, mineral, and forest resources; disruption of endangered species' habitat ; and threats to human health. While an EIS prompts an organization to disclose the environmental effects of their project before beginning construction or development, and to suggest ways to avoid adverse impacts, the document does not, in itself, prevent federal agencies from polluting, or otherwise endangering ecological and human health. An EIS is intended to help federal regulators and environmental compliance agencies determine whether the proposed development will violate environmental laws. United States environmental policy does not require corporations or individuals to file EIS documents, but it does expect private sector developments to comply with federal, state and local environmental and public health regulations.


Environmental impact assessment

In order to prepare an EIS, federal agencies must fully assess the environmental setting and potential effects of a project. Corporations and individuals must likewise determine whether their businesses and residences meet the environmental standards required by their national, state and local governments. Environmental impact assessment is a process that can be used to identify and estimate the potential environmental consequences of proposed developments and policies. Environmental impact assessment is a highly interdisciplinary process, involving inputs from many fields in the sciences and social sciences. Environmental impact assessments commonly examine ecological, physical/chemical, sociological, economic, and other environmental effects. Many nations require the equivalent of an EIS for projects proposed by their federal agencies, and almost all countries have environmental laws. Environmental assessment is a tool used by developers and civil planners throughout the international community. Governmental agencies, like the EPA in the United States, typically provide guidelines for risk assessment procedures and regulations, but the financial and legal responsibility to conduct a thorough environmental assessment rests with the agency, corporation, or individual proposing the project.

Environmental assessments may be conducted to review the potential effects of: (1) individual projects, such as the construction of a particular power plant, incinerator, airport, or housing development; (2) integrated development schemes, or proposals to develop numerous projects in some area. Examples include an industrial park, or an integrated venture to harvest, manage, and process a natural resource, such as a pulp mill with its associated wood-supply and forest-management plans; or (3) government policies that carry a risk of having substantial environmental effects. Examples include decisions to give national priority to the generation of electricity using nuclear reactors, or to clear large areas of natural forest to develop new lands for agricultural use. Government agencies and businesses proposing large projects usually hire an independent environmental consulting firm to conduct environmental risk assessments, and to preview the possible environmental, legal, health, safety, and civil engineering ramifications of their development plan. Environmental consultants also perform scientific environmental monitoring at existing sites, and, if necessary, recommend methods of cleaning up environmental contamination and damage caused by non-compliant projects.

Any project, scheme, or policy can potentially cause an extraordinary variety of environmental and ecological changes. Consequently, it is rarely practical to consider all a proposal's potential effects in an environmental impact assessment. Usually certain indicators, called "valued ecosystem components" (VECs), are selected for study on the basis of their importance to society. VECs are often identified through consultations with government regulators, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and the public. Commonly examined VECs include: (1) resources that are economically important, such as agricultural or forest productivity, and populations of hunted fish or game; (2) rare or endangered species and natural ecosystems; (3) particular species , communities, or landscapes that are of cultural or aesthetic importance; (4) resources whose quality directly affects human health, including drinking water, urban air, and agricultural soil; and (5) simple indicators of a complex of ecological values. The spotted owl (strix occidentalis), for example, is an indicator of the integrity of certain types of old-growth conifer forests in western North America . Proposed activities, like commercial forestry , that threaten a population of these birds also imperil the larger, old-growth forest ecosystem. Determination of VECs usually requires a site-specific scientific characterization and survey of the proposed development.



Conducting an environmental impact assessment

Risk assessment is the first phase of an environmental impact assessment. Environmental risk characterization is accomplished by predicting a proposed development's potential stressors at the site over time , and comparing these effects with the known boundaries of VECs. This is a preliminary reconnaissance exercise that may require environmental scientists to judge the severity and importance of potential interactions between stressors and VECs. It is highly desirable to undertake field, laboratory, or simulation research to determine the risks of interactions identified during preliminary screening. However, even the most thorough environmental assessments usually present an incomplete characterization of a site's VECs and potential impacts. Inadequate time and funds often further constrain impact assessments.

Once potentially important risks to VECs are identified and studied, it is possible to consider various planning options. EIS documentation requires both environmental assessment and an explanation of planned responses to environmental impacts. During the planning stage of the impact assessment, environmental specialists provide objective information and professional opinions to project managers. There are three broad types of planning responses to environmental impacts:

  1. The predicted damages can be avoided by halting the development, or by modifying its structure. Avoidance is often disfavored by proponents of a development because irreconcilable conflicts with environmental quality can result in substantial costs, including canceled projects. Regulators and politicians also tend to have an aversion to this option, as lost socioeconomic opportunities and unfinished projects are generally unpopular.
  2. Mitigations can be designed and implemented to prevent or significantly reduce damages to VECs. For examples, acidification of a lake by industrial dumping could be mitigated by adding carbonate to the lake, a development that threatens the habitat of an endangered species could suggest moving the population to another site, or a proposed coal-fired generating station could offset its carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees. Mitigations are popular ways of resolving conflicts between project-related stressors and VECs. However, mitigations are risky because ecological and environmental knowledge is inherently incomplete, and many mitigation schemes fail to properly protect the VEC. Moving a population of animals from its home habit, for instance, usually results in mortality of the animals.
  3. A third planning response is to allow the projected environmental damages to occur, and to accept the degradation as an unfortunate cost of achieving the project's perceived socioeconomic benefits. This choice is common, because not all environmental damages can be avoided or mitigated, and many damaging activities can yield large, short-term profits.

It is nearly impossible to carry out large industrial or economic developments without causing some environmental damage. However, a properly conducted impact assessment can help decision makers understand the dimensions and importance of that damage, and to decide whether they are acceptable.


Environmental effects monitoring

Once an environmental assessment has been completed, and federal projects have filed an approved EIS, the project or policy may proceed. When the development is completed, the associated environmental stresses begin to affect species, ecosystems, and socioeconomic systems. The actual effects of a project must then be monitored to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, to observe and mitigate any unforeseen consequences, and to compare real damages to predicted ones. Monitoring might include measuring levels of chemical emissions into the air, water, or soil, observing the response of plants and animals at the site, or surveying the health of employees and nearby residents of the site. Socioeconomic impacts, like increased traffic congestion, or water availability for surrounding agricultural and municipal interests, are also including in appropriate monitoring schemes. Predictions set out in the pre-development environmental impact assessment usually determine the structure of monitoring programs. Monitoring programs must be flexible and adaptive, because "surprises," or unpredicted environmental changes, often occur. In this sense, environmental impact assessment is an ongoing process that extends over the lifetime of a development.

See also Air pollution; Ecological economics; Ecological integrity; Ecological monitoring; Ecological productivity; Environmental ethics.

Resources

books

Canter, L.W. Environmental Impact Assessment. 2nd ed. Amsterdam: Kluwer, 1993.

Freedman, B. Environmental Ecology. 2nd ed. San Diego: Academic Press, 1994.

Wathern, P., ed. Environmental Impact Assessment: Theory andPractice. London: Unwin Hyman, 1998.

other

United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Environmental Management." November 7, 2002 [cited November 8, 2002]. <http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/environmentalman agement.html>.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. "National Center for Environmental Assessment." September 19, 2001 [cited November 8, 2002]. <http://cfpub1.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/nceahome.cfm>.


Laurie Duncan

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Environmental impact assessment

—A process by which the potential environmental consequences of proposed activities or policies are presented and considered.

Mitigation

—This is a strategy intended to reduce the intensity of environmental damages associated with a stressor. Mitigations are the most common mechanisms by which conflicts between stressors and valued ecosystem components are resolved during environmental impact assessments.

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