Environmental Impact Statements
The National Environmental Policy Act - Overview
- Enacted in 1969
- Requires federal agencies to evaluate potential environmental impacts when planning a major federal action
- Goals are information gathering, public awareness, input and dialogue
Almost anything involving federal land or money, for example:
The environmental impact statement (EIS) process
- species introduction/reintroduction on federal land
- a new airport
- a rerouted interstate highway
- building or removing a dam
- a ski resort expansion on federally-owned land
- nuclear waste storage
- timber harvest in a national forest
- changing designation: wilderness to park, private land to federal land, etc.
Each government agency has specific regulations, but follows the same general procedures.
Some proposed actions merit a "categorical exclusion" and do not have to follow the process at all. If an action was studied in past and no significant impact was found, or if it can be compared to different activities that the law defines as not having significant impact, then no further studies are necessary. The agency can implement its proposed action.
Notice of intent must be issued in the Federal Register and area newspapers. Announcements of public meetings must also be announced publicly.
Public, federal and state agencies and Native American tribes are asked to give their comments and to better define the issues that should be covered ("scoping").
Comments received are responded to and included in the final document. Those commenting on a proposal are often called "stakeholders". These might include local residents, those with a commercial or political interest in the proposed action, or any other interested parties.
A draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) is written and issued
- A 45-day (minimum) period is required for public comment
- The federal agency issues a final EIS that responds to oral and written comments received during the public review of the draft.
- After a 60-day waiting period, the agency issues a record of decision. The federal agency may then begin implementation of its decision.
If an action is likely to have significant impacts on the environment, an EIS is required. If the effects are unknown, a less detailed study or an environmental assessment (EA) is prepared. The EA is overview of potential impacts; it is used to determine whether an EIS is necessary.
Focus of an environmental impact statement
- Examination of the potential impacts of the proposed action
- Examination of the potential impacts of several reasonable alternatives.
- Examination of the no-action alternative (continue using existing approaches)
- Identification of both the negative and positive effects.
- Examination of all interrelated elements of the environment, both natural (air, water, geology, ecology) and human (jobs, housing, schools, health and safety, transportation, cultural resources, noise, aesthetics).
- Identification of opportunities for reducing or eliminating significant adverse impacts, or mitigation.
The process does not dictate that an agency choose the most environmentally friendly alternative, nor does it dictate choosing the least expensive. The purpose of the process is to ensure that necessary and accurate studies are done, that they are done with public involvement, and that public officials make decisions based on an understanding of environmental consequences.
Not all things are considered. For example, in an EIS to determine whether nuclear waste would be stored in Yucca Mt., NV, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act provided that the EIS did not have to cover:
Return to Mock EIS activity page
- the need for a repository
- the time of initial availability of a repository
- alternative sites
- alternatives to geologic disposal for isolating nuclear waste
- decisions already made
Last update: 4/18/02 by Rebecca Burton, Dept. of Biology, Alverno College