Environmental impact assessment

Environmental impact assessment

An environmental impact assessment is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment, together consisting of the natural, social and economic aspects.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made."[1] EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision­makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.[2]

EIAs began to be used in the 1960s as part of a rational decision making process. It involved a technical evaluation that would lead to objective decision making. EIA was made legislation in the US in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969. It has since evolved as it has been used increasingly in many countries around the world. As per Jay et al.(2006) , EIA as it is practiced today, is being used as a decision aiding tool rather than decision making tool. There is growing dissent on the use of EIA as its influence on development decisions is limited and there is a view it is falling short of its full potential.There is a need for stronger foundation of EIA practice through training for practitioners, guidance on EIA practice and continuing research.[3]

EIAs have often been criticized for having too narrow spatial and temporal scope. At present no procedure has been specified for determining a system boundary for the assessment. The system boundary refers to ‘the spatial and temporal boundary of the proposal’s effects’. This boundary is determined by the applicant and the lead assessor, but in practice, almost all EIAs address the direct, on-site effects alone.[4]

However, as well as direct effects, developments cause a multitude of indirect effects through consumption of goods and services, production of building materials and machinery, additional land use for activities of various manufacturing and industrial services, mining of resources etc. The indirect effects of developments are often an order of magnitude higher than the direct effects assessed by EIA. Large proposals such as airports or ship yards cause wide ranging national as well as international environmental effects, which should be taken into consideration during the decision-making process.[5]

Broadening the scope of EIA can also benefit threatened species conservation. Instead of concentrating on the direct effects of a proposed project on its local environment some EIAs used a landscape approach which focused on much broader relationships between the entire population of a species in question. As a result, an alternative that would cause least amount of negative effects to the population of that species as a whole, rather than the local subpopulation, can be identified and recommended by EIA.[6]

There are various methods available to carry out EIAs, some are industry specific and some general methods:

  • Industrial products - Product environmental life cycle analysis (LCA) is used for identifying and measuring the impact on the environment of industrial products. These EIAs consider technological activities used for various stages of the product: extraction of raw material for the product and for ancillary materials and equipment, through the production and use of the product, right up to the disposal of the product, the ancillary equipment and material.[7]
  • Genetically modified plants - There are specific methods available to perform EIAs of genetically modified plants. Some of the methods are GMP-RAM, INOVA etc.[8]
  • Fuzzy Arithmetic - EIA methods need specific parameters and variables to be measured to estimate values of impact indicators. However many of the environment impact properties cannot be measured on a scale e.g. landscape quality, lifestyle quality, social acceptance etc. and moreover these indicators are very subjective. Thus to assess the impacts we may need to take the help of information from similar EIAs, expert criteria, sensitivity of affected population etc. To treat this information, which is generally inaccurate, systematically, fuzzy arithmetic and approximate reasoning methods can be utilised. This is called as a fuzzy logic approach.[9]

At the end of the project, an EIA should be followed by an audit. An EIA audit evaluates the performance of an EIA by comparing actual impacts to those that were predicted. The main objective of these audits is to make future EIAs more valid and effective. The two main considerations are:

  • scientific - to check the accuracy of predictions and explain errors.
  • management- to assess the success of mitigation in reducing impacts.

Some people believe that audits be performed as a rigorous scientific testing of the null hypotheses. While some believe in a simpler approach where you compare what actually occurred against the predictions in the EIA document.[10]

After an EIA, the precautionary and polluter pays principles may be applied to prevent, limit, or require strict liability or insurance coverage to a project, based on its likely harms. Environmental impact assessments are sometimes controversial.




The history of EIA in Australia could be linked to the enactment of the U.S. National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970, which made the preparation of environmental impact statements a requirement. In Australia, one might say that the EIA procedures were introduced at a State Level prior to that of the Commonwealth (Federal), with a majority of the states having divergent views to the Commonwealth.[11] One of the pioneering states was New South Wales, whose State Pollution Control Commission issued EIA guidelines in 1974. At a Commonwealth (Federal) level, this was followed by passing of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act in 1974. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) superseded the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 and is the current central piece for EIA in Australia on a Commonwealth (Federal) level. An important point to note is that this Commonwealth Act does not affect the validity of the States and Territories environmental and development assessments and approvals; rather the EPBC runs as a parallel to the State/Territory Systems.[11] Overlap between federal and state requirements is addressed via bilateral agreements or one off accredition of state processes, as provided for in the EPBC Act.

The Commonwealth Level

The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places-defined in the EPBC Act as matters of ‘national environmental significance’. Following are the eight matters of ‘national environmental significance’ to which the EPBC ACT applies [12]:

  • World Heritage sites;
  • National Heritage places;
  • RAMSAR wetlands of international significance;
  • Listed threatened species and ecological communities;
  • Migratory species protected under international agreements;
  • The Commonwealth marine environment;
  • Nuclear actions (including uranium mining); and
  • National Heritage.

In addition to this, the EPBC Act aims at providing a streamlined national assessment and approval process for activities. These activities could be by the Commonwealth, or its agents, anywhere in the world or activities on Commonwealth land; and activities that are listed as having a ‘significant impact’ on matters of ‘national environment significance'.[12]

The EPBC Act comes into play when a person (a ‘proponent') wants an action (often called a ‘proposal’ or ‘project’) assessed for environmental impacts under the EPBC Act, he or she must refer the project to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (Australia). This ‘referral’ is then released to the public, as well as relevant state, territory and Commonwealth ministers, for comment on whether the project is likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance.[12] The Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts assess the process and makes recommendation to the minister or the delegate for the feasibility. The final discretion on the decision remains of the minister, which is not solely based on matters of ‘national environmental significance’ but also the consideration of social and economic impact of the project.[12]

The Australian Government environment minister cannot intervene in a proposal if it has no significant impact on one of the eight matters of ‘national environmental significance’ despite the fact that there may be other undesirable environmental impacts.[12] This is primarily due to the division of powers between the States and the Federal government and due to which the Australian Government environment minister cannot overturn a state decision.

There are strict civil and criminal penalties for the breach of EPBC Act. Depending on the kind of breach, civil penalty (maximum) may go up to $550,000 for an individual and $5.5 million for a body corporate, or for criminal penalty (maximum) of seven years imprisonment and/or penalty of $46,200.[12]

The State and Territory Level

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

EIA in ACT is administered with the help of Part 4 of the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991 (Land Act) and Territory Plan (plan for land-use).[11]

New South Wales (NSW)

In New South Wales, the Environment Planning Assessment Act 1979 (EPA) establishes three pathways for EIA. The first is under Part 3A of the Act where Major Projects require an environmental assessment. The second is under Part 4 of the Act dealing with development control. If a project does not require approval under Part 3A or Part 4 it is then potentially captured by the third pathway, Part 5 dealing with environment impact assessment.[11]

Northern Territory (NT)

The EIA process in Northern Territory is chiefly administered under the Environmental Assessment Act (EEA).[13] Although EEA is the primary tool for EIA in Northern Territory, there are further provisions for proposals in the Inquiries Act 1985 (NT).[11]

Queensland (QLD)

There are four main EIA processes in Queensland.[14] Firstly, under the Integrated Planning Act 1997 (IPA) for development projects other than mining. Secondly, under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) for some mining and petroleum activities. Thirdly, under the State Development and Public Works Organization Act 1971 (State Development Act) for ‘significant projects’. Finally, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) for ‘controlled actions’.[14]

South Australia (SA)

The local governing tool for EIA in South Australia is the Development Act 1993. There are three levels of assessment possible under the Act in the form of an environment impact statement (EIS), a public environmental report (PER) or a Development Report (DR).[11]

Tasmania (TAS)

In Tasmania, an integrated system of legislation is used to govern development and approval process, this system is a mixture of the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 (EMPCA), Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993 (LUPAA), State Policies and Projects Act 1993 (SPPA), and Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal Act 1993.[11]

Victoria (VIC)

The EIA process in Victoria is intertwined with the Environment Effects Act 1978 and the Ministerial Guidelines for Assessment of Environmental Effects (made under the s. 10 of the EE Act).[15]

Western Australia (WA)

The Environmental Protection Act 1986 (Part 4) provides the legislative framework for the EIA process in Western Australia.[16] The EPA Act oversees the planning and development proposals and assesses their likely impacts on the environment.


The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) is the legal basis for the federal environmental assessment (EA) process. CEAA came into force in 1995. Legislative amendments were introduced in 2001 and came into force on October 30, 2003. EA is defined as a planning tool to identify, understand, assess and mitigate, where possible, the environmental effects of a project. Under the CEAA, all federal government departments and agencies are required to undertake an EA for projects relating to a physical work and for any proposed physical activity listed in the Inclusion List Regulations where it exercises one or more of the following CEAA triggers:

  • Proposes or undertakes a project
  • Grants money or any other form of financial assistance to a project
  • Grants an interest in the land to enable a project to be carried out
  • Exercises a regulatory duty in relation to a project, such as issuing a permit or license that is included in the Law List Regulations.

If a federal government department or agency exercises one or more of the above-mentioned triggers, it becomes a Responsible Authority (RA) under CEAA. As an RA, the federal department or agency in question must ensure that an EA is carried out in accordance with the CEAA and must consider the EA findings before a decision is made that could allow the project to proceed.


The Environmental Impact Assessment Law (EIA Law) requires an environmental impact assessment to be completed prior to project construction. However, if a developer completely ignores this requirement and builds a project without submitting an environmental impact statement, the only penalty is that the environmental protection bureau (EPB) may require the developer to do a make-up environmental assessment. If the developer does not complete this make-up assessment within the designated time, only then is the EPB authorized to fine the developer. Even so, the possible fine is capped at a maximum of about US$25,000, a fraction of the overall cost of most major projects. The lack of more stringent enforcement mechanisms has resulted in a significant percentage of projects not completing legally required environmental impact assessments prior to construction.[17]

China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) used the legislation to halt 30 projects in 2004, including three hydro-power plants under the Three Gorges Project Company. Although one month later (Note as a point of reference, that the typical EIA for a major project in the USA takes one to two years.), most of the 30 halted projects resumed their construction, reportedly having passed the environmental assessment, the fact that these key projects' construction was ever suspended was notable.

A joint investigation by SEPA and the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2004 showed that 30-40% of the mining construction projects went through the procedure of environment impact assessment as required, while in some areas only 6-7% did so. This partly explains why China has witnessed so many mining accidents in recent years.

SEPA alone cannot guarantee the full enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, observed Professor Wang Canfa, director of the centre to help environmental victims at China University of Political Science and Law. In fact, according to Wang, the rate of China's environmental laws and regulations that are actually enforced is estimated to be barely 10%.[18]


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) EIA is implemented in Egypt under the umbrella of the Ministry of state for environmental affairs. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) is responsible for the EIA services.

In June 1997, the responsibility of Egypt's first full time Minister of State for Environmental Affairs was assigned as stated in the Presidential Decree no.275/1997. From thereon, the new ministry has focused, in close collaboration with the national and international development partners, on defining environmental policies, setting priorities and implementing initiatives within a context of sustainable development.

According to the Law 4/1994 for the Protection of the Environment, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) was restructured with the new mandate to substitute the institution initially established in 1982. At the central level, EEAA represents the executive arm of the Ministry.

The purpose of EIA is to ensure the protection and conservation of the environment and natural resources including human health aspects against uncontrolled development. The long-term objective is to ensure a sustainable economic development that meets present needs without compromising future generations ability to meet their own needs. EIA is an important tool in the integrated environmental management approach.

EIA must be performed for new establishments or projects and for expansions or renovations of existing establishments according to the Law for the Environment. [19]


The European Union has established a mix of mandatory and discretionary procedures to assess environmental impacts.[20] European Union Directive (85/337/EEC) on Environmental Impact Assessments (known as the EIA Directive) [21] was first introduced in 1985 and was amended in 1997. The directive was amended again in 2003, following EU signature of the 1998 Aarhus Convention. In 2001, the issue was enlarged to the assessment of plans and programmes by the so called Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive (2001/42/EC), which is now in force.[20] Under the EU directive, an EIA must provide certain information to comply.[22] There are seven key areas that are required:

  1. Description of the project
    • Description of actual project and site description
    • Break the project down into its key components, i.e. construction, operations, decommissioning
    • For each component list all of the sources of environmental disturbance
    • For each component all the inputs and outputs must be listed, e.g., air pollution, noise, hydrology
  2. Alternatives that have been considered
    • Examine alternatives that have been considered
    • Example: in a biomass power station, will the fuel be sourced locally or nationally?
  3. Description of the environment
    • List of all aspects of the environment that may be affected by the development
    • Example: populations, fauna, flora, air, soil, water, humans, landscape, cultural heritage
    • This section is best carried out with the help of local experts, e.g. the RSPB in the UK
  4. Description of the significant effects on the environment
    • The word significant is crucial here as the definition can vary
    • 'Significant' needs to be defined
    • The most frequent method used here is use of the Leopold matrix
    • The matrix is a tool used in the systematic examination of potential interactions
    • Example: in a windfarm development a significant impact may be collisions with birds
  5. Mitigation
    • This is where EIA is most useful
    • Once section 4 has been completed it will be obvious where the impacts will be greatest
    • Using this information ways to avoid negative impacts should be developed
    • Best working with the developer with this section as they know the project best
    • Using the windfarm example again construction could be out of bird nesting seasons
  6. Non-technical summary (EIS)
    • The EIA will be in the public domain and be used in the decision making process
    • It is important that the information is available to the public
    • This section is a summary that does not include jargon or complicated diagrams
    • It should be understood by the informed lay-person
  7. Lack of know-how/technical difficulties
    • This section is to advise any areas of weakness in knowledge
    • It can be used to focus areas of future research
    • Some developers see the EIA as a starting block for poor environmental management

The Netherlands

EIA was implemented in Dutch legislation on September 1, 1987. The categories of projects that require an EIA are summarised in Dutch legislation, the Wet milieubeheer. The use of thresholds for activities makes sure that EIA is obligatory for those activities that may have considerable impacts on the environment.

For projects and plans that fit these criteria, a EIA report is required. The EIA report defines a.o. the proposed initiative, it makes clear the impact of that initiative on the environment and compares this with the impact of possible alternatives with less a negative impact.[23]

Hong Kong

EIA in Hong Kong, since 1998, is regulated by the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance 1997.

The original proposal to construct the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line overground across the Long Valley failed to get through EIA, and the KCR Corporation had to change its plan and build the railway underground. In April 2011, the EIA of the Hong Kong section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge was found to have breached the ordinance, and was declared unlawful. The appeal by the government was allowed in September 2011. However, it was estimated that this EIA court case had increased the construction cost of the Hong Kong section of the bridge by HK$6.5 billion in money-of-the-day prices.[24]


The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of India have been in a great effort in Environmental Impact Assessment in India. The main laws in nation are Water Act(1974), The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act (1972), The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981) and The Environment (Protection) Act (1986). The responsible body for this is Central Pollution Control Board. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies need a significant amount of primary and secondary environmental data. The primary data are those which need to be collected in the field to define the status of environment (like air quality data, water quality data etc.). The secondary data are those data which have been collected over the years and can be used to understand the existing environmental scenario of the study area. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies are conducted over a short period of time and therefore the understanding the environmental trends based on few months of primary data has its own limitations. Ideally, the primary data has to be considered along with the secondary data for complete understanding of the existing environmental status of the area. In many EIA studies, the secondary data needs could be as high as 80% of the total data requirement. EIC is the repository of one stop secondary data source for environmental impact assessment in India.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) experience in India indicates that the lack of timely availability of reliable and authentic environmental data has been a major bottle neck in achieving the full benefits of EIA. The environment being a multi-disciplinary subject, a multitude of agencies is involved in collection of environmental data. However, there is no single organization in India which tracks the data available amongst these agencies and makes it available in one place, in a form and manner required by practitioners in the field of environmental impact assessment in India. Further, the environmental data is not available in value added forms that can enhance the quality of the EIA. This in turn adversely affects the time and efforts required for conducting the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) by project proponents and also timely environmental clearances by the regulators. With this background, Environmental Information Centre (EIC) has been set up to serve as a professionally managed clearing house of environmental information that can be used by MoEF, project proponents, consultants, NGOs and other stakeholders involved in the process of environmental impact assessment in India. EIC caters to the need of creating and disseminating of organized environmental data for various developmental initiatives all over the country.

EIC stores data in GIS format and makes it available to all environmental impact assessment studies and to EIA stakeholders in a cost effective and timely manner.


In Malaysia, Section 34A, Environmental Quality Act, 1974[25] requires developments that have significant impact to the environment are required to conduct the Environmental impact assessment.


In Nepal, EIA has been integrated in major development projects since the early 1980s. In the planning history ofNepal, the sixth plan (1980–85), for the first time, recognized the need for EIA with the establishment of Environmental Impact Study Project (EISP) under the Department of Soil Conservation in 1982 to develop necessary instruments for integration of EIA in infrastructure development projects. However, the government of Nepal enunciated environment conservation related policies in the seventh plan (NPC, 1985–1990). In order to enforce this policy and make necessary arrangements, a series of guidelines were developed, thereby incorporating the elements of environmental factors right from the project formulation stage of the development plans and projects and to avoid or minimize adverse effects on the ecological system. In addition, it has also emphasized that EIAs of industry, tourism, water resources, transportation, urbanization, agriculture, forest and other developmental projects be conducted.

In Nepal, the government’s Environmental Impact Assessment Guideline of 1993 inspired the enactment of the Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1997 and the Environment Protection Rules (EPR) of 1997(EPA and EPR have been enforced since 24 and 26 June 1997 respectively in Nepal) to internalizing the environmental assessment system. The process institutionalized the EIA process in development proposals and enactment, which makes the integration of IEE and EIA legally binding to the prescribed projects. The projects, requiring EIA or IEE, are included in Schedules 1 and 2 of the EPR, 1997 (GoN/MoLJPA 1997). Progresses were made in the Environmental protection issue during the 8th five year plan (1992–1997). The following development in Environmental protection were achieved during that time:

  • Formulation of Environmental Protection Act 1997
  • Establishment of Ministry of Environment
  • Development of National Environmental Policies and Action Plan, EIA guidelines developed
  • Consideration of environmental concerns in hydropower projects
  • Development of industrial, irrigation and agricultural policies that undertook environmental concerns

Source: Bhatta R. and Khanal S. 2010.African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology Vol. 4(9), pp. 586–594

New Zealand

In New Zealand, EIA is usually referred to as Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). The first use of EIA's dates back to a Cabinet minute passed in 1974 called Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures. This had no legal force and only related to the activities of government departments. When the Resource Management Act was passed in 1991, an EIA was required as part of a resource consent application. Section 88 of the Act specifies that the AEE must include "such detail as corresponds with the scale and significance of the effects that the activity may have on the environment". While there is no duty to consult any person when making a resource consent application (Sections 36A and Schedule 4), proof of consultation is almost certain to be required by local councils when making a decision about whether or not to publicly notifiy the consent application under Section 93.

Russian Federation

Russia holds the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves. Russia is also the world's largest exporter of natural gas, the second largest oil exporter and the third largest energy consumer.[26]

As of 2004, the state authority responsible for conducting the State EIA in Russia has been split between two Federal bodies: 1) Federal service for monitoring the use of natural resources – a part of the Russian Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment and 2) Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Control . The two main pieces of environmental legislation in Russia are: The Federal Law ‘On Ecological Expertise, 1995 and the ‘Regulations on Assessment of Impact from Intended Business and Other Activity on Environment in the Russian Federation, 2000.[27]

Federal Service for monitoring the use of natural resources

In 2006, the parliament committee on ecology in conjunction with the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment, created a working group to prepare a number of amendments to existing legislation in order to cover such topics as stringent project documentation for building of potentially environmentally damaging objects as well as building of projects on the territory of protected areas. There has been some success in this area, as evidenced from abandonment of plans to construct a gas pipe-line through the only remaining habitat of the critically endangered Amur leopard in the Russian Far East.

Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Control

The government’s decision to hand over control over several important procedures, including state EIA in the field of all types of energy projects, to the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Control had caused a major controversy and criticism from environmental groups that blamed the government for giving nuclear power industry control over the state EIA.

Not surprisingly the main problem concerning State EIA in Russia is the clear differentiation of jurisdiction between the two above-mentioned Federal bodies.

Sri Lanka

Environmental Impact Assessments

One popular approach to assist in smart growth in democratic countries is for law-makers to require prospective developers to prepare environmental impact assessments of their plans as a condition for state and/or local governments to go for Environmental Impact Assessments

These reports often indicate how significant impacts generated by the development will be mitigated - the cost of which is usually paid by the developer. These assessments are frequently controversial. Conservationists, neighborhood advocacy groups and NIMBYs are often skeptical about such impact reports, even when they are prepared by independent agencies and subsequently approved by the decision makers rather than the promoters. Conversely, developers will sometimes strongly resist being required to implement the mitigation measures required by the local government as they may be quite costly.

These assessments are frequently controversial. Conservationists, neighborhood advocacy groups and NIMBYs are often skeptical about such impact reports, even when they are prepared by independent agencies and subsequently approved by the decision makers rather than the promoters. Conversely, developers will sometimes strongly resist being required to implement the mitigation measures required by the local government as they may be quite costly.

The importance of the Environmental Impact Assessment as an effective tool for the purpose of integrating environmental considerations with development planning is highly recognized in Sri Lanka. The application of this technique is considered as a means of ensuring that the likely effects of new development projects on the environment are fully understood and taken into account before development is allowed to proceed. The importance of this management tool to foresee potential environmental impacts and problems caused by proposed projects and its use as a mean to make project more suitable to the environment are highly appreciated.

United States

Under United States environmental law an Environmental Assessment (EA) is compiled to determine the need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and originated in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1969. Certain actions of federal agencies must be preceded by an EA or EIS. Contrary to a widespread misconception, NEPA does not prohibit the federal government or its licensees/permittees from harming the environment, nor does it specify any penalty if the EA or EIS turns out to be inaccurate, intentionally or otherwise. NEPA requires that plausible statements as to the prospective impacts be disclosed in advance. The purpose of NEPA process is to ensure that the decision maker is fully informed of the environmental aspects and consequences prior to making the final decision.

An Environmental Assessment (EA) is an environmental analysis prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act to determine whether a federal action would significantly affect the environment and thus require a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The release of an Environmental Assessment results in either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The Environmental Assessment is a concise public document prepared by the federal action agency that serves to:

  1. briefly provide sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an EIS or a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)
  2. Demonstrate compliance with the act when no EIS is required
  3. facilitate the preparation of a EIS when a FONSI cannot be demonstrated

The Environmental Assessment includes a brief discussion of the purpose and need of the proposal and of its alternatives as required by CFR 102(2)(E), of the environmental impacts of the proposed actions and alternatives, as well as a listing of agencies and stakeholders consulted. The action agency must approve an EA before it is made available to the public. The EA is made public through notices of availability by local, state, or regional clearing houses, newspapers, etc.

There is a 15-30 day review period required for an Environmental Assessment, while the document is made available for public commentary.

An agency will release either a Draft Environmental Assessment (Draft EA) or a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for comment. Interested parties and the general public have the opportunity to comment on the draft, after which the agency will address all comments received and prepare a decision document, either a FONSI, Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a EIS or a Record of Decision for an EIS. The agency will then approve the " Final Environmental Assessment" (Final EA) or Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Commenting on the Draft EA is typically done in writing or email, submitted to the lead agency as defined in the Notice of Availability. Draft EIS's require public hearings, so comments can be made in person, as well as in writing. Occasionally, the agency will later release a "Supplemental Environmental Assessment " (Supplemental EA) or a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), if the project parameters or environmental conditions change substantially after the issuance of the FONSI or ROD.

The adequacy of an EIS can be challenged in federal court. Major proposed projects have been blocked because of an agency's failure to prepare an acceptable EIS. One prominent example was the Westway landfill and highway development in and along the Hudson River in New York City.[28] Another prominent case involved the Sierra Club suing the Nevada Department of Transportation over its denial of Sierra Club's request to issue a supplemental EIS addressing air emissions of particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants in the case of widening US Highway 95 through Las Vegas.[29] The case reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which led to construction on the highway being halted until the court's final decision. The case was settled prior to the court's final decision.

Several state governments that have adopted "little NEPAs," state laws imposing EIS requirements for particular state actions. Some those state laws such as ()the California Environmental Quality Act refer to the required environmental impact studies as environmental impact reports.[30]

The structure of a generic Environmental Assessment is as follows:

  1. Summary
  2. Introduction
    • Structure
    • Background
    • Purpose and Need for Action
    • Proposed Action
    • Decision Framework
    • Public Involvement
    • Issues
  3. Alternatives, including the Proposed Action
    • Alternatives
    • Mitigation Common to All Alternatives
    • Comparison of Alternatives
  4. Environmental Consequences
  5. Consultation and Coordination

These variety of state requirements are yielding voluminous data not just upon impacts of individual projects, but also to elucidate scientific areas that had not been sufficiently researched. For example, in a seemingly routine Environmental Impact Report for the city of Monterey, California, information came to light that led to the official federal endangered species listing of Hickman's potentilla, a rare coastal wildflower.

Transboundary application

Environmental threats do not respect national borders. International pollution can have detrimental effects on the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, aquifers, farmland, the weather and biodiversity. Global climate change is transnational. Specific pollution threats include acid rain, radioactive contamination, debris in outer space, stratospheric ozone depletion and toxic oil spills. The Chernobyl disaster, precipitated by a nuclear accident on April 26, 1986, is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of transboundary nuclear pollution.[31]

Environmental protection is inherently a cross-border issue and has led to the creation of transnational regulation via multilateral and bilateral treaties. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE or Stockholm Conference) held in Stockholm in 1972 and the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED or Rio Summit, Rio Conference, or Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 were key in the creation of about 1,000 international instruments that include at least some provisions related to the environment and its protection.[32]

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context was negotiated to provide an international legal framework for transboundary EIA.[33]

However, as there is no universal legislature or administration with a comprehensive mandate, most international treaties exist parallel to one another and are further developed without the benefit of consideration being given to potential conflicts with other agreements. There is also the issue of international enforcement.[34] This has led to duplications and failures, in part due to an inability to enforce agreements. An example is the failure of many international fisheries regimes to restrict harvesting practises.[35]

Annexed projects

All projects are either classified as Annex 1 or Annex 2 projects. Those lying in Annex 1 are large scale developments such as motorways, chemical works, bridges, powerstations etc. These always require an EIA under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85,337,EEC). Annex 2 projects are smaller in scale such as small installments, and maintenance works. These do not require an EIA [36]

See also


  1. ^ "Principle of Environmental Impact Assessment Best Practice." International Association for Impact Assessment. 1999.
  2. ^ Holder, J., (2004), Environmental Assessment: The Regulation of Decision Making, Oxford University Press, New York; For a comparative discussion of the elements of various domestic EIA systems, see Christopher Wood Environmental Impact Assessment: A Comparative Review (2 ed, Prentice Hall, Harlow, 2002).
  3. ^ Jay, S., Jones, C., Slinn, P., Wood, C., (2007), Environmental Impact Assessment: Retrospect and Prospect Environmental Impact Assessment Review 27: 287-300
  4. ^ Lenzen M., Murray, S., Korte, B., Dey, C., 2003, Environmental impact assessment including indirect effects – a case study using input-output analysis, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23, pp. 263-282
  5. ^ Shepherd. A., Ortolano L., (1996), Strategic environmental assessment for sustainable urban development, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, pp. 321-335
  6. ^ Fernandes, J., (2000), EIA procedure, Landscape ecology and conservation management - Evaluation of alternatives in a highway EIA process, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 20, pp. 665-680
  7. ^ Daniel, S., Tsoulfas, G., Pappis, C., & Rachaniotis, N. (2004) Aggregating and evaluating the results of different Environmental Impact Assessment methods Ecological indicators 4:125-138
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  36. ^ (Donald McArthur, 2009)]

Further reading

  • Petts, J. (ed), Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment Vol 1 & 2, Blackwell, Oxford ISBN 0-632-04772-0
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Review (1980 - ), Elsevier
  • Glasson, J; Therivel, R; Chadwick A, Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment, (2005) Routledge, London
  • Carroll, B. and Turpin T. Environmental impact assessment handbook, second edition (2009) Thomas Telford Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7277-3509-6
  • Hanna, k; Environmental Impact Assessment: Practice and Participation" (2009)Second edition, Oxford
  • Impact Assessment: Unintended Consequences of Green Technologies A University of California, Berkeley overview of unintended impacts of green energy technologies and practices

External links

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