Environmental Impact Statement: 15 Things (2021) You Should Know

An environmental impact statement (EIS) is a document that is prepared before a project that describes how the proposed activities impact the environment.

In addition to describing the effects, the document may also include ways to mitigate the impacts.

As the United States mandates an environmental impact statement for certain projects, you’ll need to check to see if your project requires one of these before getting started.

In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you know about an environmental impact statement from what it is to what it does to why you need one.

Let’s get started!

1. What is an environmental impact statement?

An environmental impact statement is a document required by the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) under US environmental law.

It is required whenever the federal government funds or undertakes a major project or action that will impact the quality of the environment.

It’s utilized as a tool for decision-making and describes the position and negative environmental effects of a proposed action.

You may also hear preliminary versions of these documents referred to as “draft environmental impact statements” or “draft environmental impact reports.”

2. What is the purpose of an environmental impact statement?

An environmental impact statement is intended to act as an enforcement mechanism to ensure that the federal government adheres to the goals and policies that the NEPA outlines.

NEPA’s goal is to promote informed decision-making by federal agencies.

It was the first piece of legislation that created a comprehensive method to assess both potential and existing environmental risks.

3. How is an environmental impact statement laid out?

An environmental impact statement is laid out in four sections.

Here’s what you should expect:

bulletAn introduction: This introduction includes a statement of the purpose and need of the proposed action

bulletA description: This is a description of the affected environment

bulletA range of alternatives: This includes the range of alternatives to the proposed action, which may be considered the “heart” of the EIS

bulletAn analysis: An analysis covers topics like the impact to threatened or endangered species, air and water quality impacts, the impacts to historic and cultural sites, social and economic impacts to local communities, and cost and schedule analyses for each alternative.

Additionally, some of the following may be included (although, it’s not required): financial plan, environmental mitigation plan, and additional documentation that complies with state and local environmental policy laws.

4. What are the key milestones of an environmental impact statement?

Key milestones of an EIS include the following:

bulletThe issuance of a notice of intent to conduct an environmental impact statement

bulletPreparation of a draft environmental impact statement for public comment

bulletA waiting period of 45 days to allow for comments from interested parties

bulletFinalization and publication of the final EIS

bulletAfter a mandatory minimum waiting period of 30 days, the appropriate federal agency should announce a Record of Decision (ROD) along with alternatives considered and steps to be taken to mitigate adverse environmental impacts

5. What are the steps in the EIS process?

Here are the steps for creating an environmental impact statement:

bulletScoping: Hold a meeting to discover what work and research must be done.

These meetings are open to decision-makers and those that are involved with the proposed project.

During this time, all work and research that must be done are assessed and delegated.

bulletNotice: The public is notified that the relevant agency is preparing an EIS.

An announcement is filed in the Federal Register.

Notices are sent to the local media, and letters are sent to individuals/groups that might be interested.

The public may submit comments identifying issues that the EIS should address.

bulletDraft EIS: Agency assembles all comments and prepares a draft statement.

bulletComment: Members of the public who are affected by the proposed action are welcome to provide feedback on the draft through written comments and public hearings over a 45-day period.

bulletFinal EIS and Proposed Action: The agency announces its proposed action based on the feedback and analysis it received in earlier steps.

There is a 30-day waiting period that is required after comments close before announcing the proposed action.

bulletRe-evaluation: Re-evaluation is needed if changes are required to the proposed action (or if the length of time has passed between the final EIS and planned action).

bulletSupplemental EIS: A supplemental EIS will be prepared if new environmental impacts are discovered or if the size and scope of the proposed action change.

bulletRecord of Decision: Final action prior to implementation of the proposed action.

If there are any outstanding issues (including protests) then they are resolved.

After this stage, protestors may sue the agency in federal court.

6. When is a supplement to the environmental impact statement required?

You must supplement a draft or final environmental impact statement when any of the following occurs:

bulletSubstantial changes are made to the proposed action that are relevant to its environmental concerns

bulletThere are significant new circumstances or information relevant to the environmental concerns that have a bearing on the proposed action or its impacts

If you supplement the environmental impact statement, then you should prepare, publish, and file the supplement in the same fashion as you would the draft or final EIS.

7. How long does it take to prepare an environmental impact statement?

The time it takes to prepare an EIS ranges from 51 to 6,708 days.

On average, the time it takes for all federal entities to prepare an EIS is 3.4 years.

Average times differ widely by year and entity.

8. Are environmental impact statements used around the world?

Yes, after the U.S. government implemented the use of environmental statements, other states and countries began to use them as well.

Individual states such as California began adopting similar requirements.

They require environmental assessments under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Other U.S. states, districts, territories like Montana, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico also have similar requirements.

Beginning in 1986, the World Bank also began including environmental assessments in its funding approval process.

Likewise, the UN adopted an EIS requirement for certain programs in 1987.

Since then, over 100 countries have adopted environmental assessment protocols.

These countries include Australia, China, India, Nepal, and Ukraine.

9. What are some of the limitations of environmental impact statements?

Environmental impact statements aren’t perfect.

The differences between science and politics limit the accuracy of an EIS.

Analysts are simultaneously members of the scientific community AND the political community.

The statement may predict negative impacts of the project and the decision-makers can still decide to move ahead with the project because that is what is deemed necessary in the political and public sphere.

10. What are commonly confused terms?

bulletEnvironmental assessment vs. environmental impact statement

An environmental assessment (EA) is an initial document that is drafted to determine whether an environmental impact statement is required.

It’s relatively quick and concise.

bulletEnvironmental site assessment vs. environmental impact statement 

An environmental impact statement is required whenever the federal government is involved in a major project and is required by NEPA 

On the other hand, an environmental site assessment is usually completed as part of the due diligence process when a buyer is purchasing a commercial lot or a property that may otherwise have a high likelihood of environmental contamination.

While it is not required by NEPA, it does help protect against liability should contamination later be found.

11. What may be discovered during an environmental assessment?

During an environmental assessment, the following may be discovered, and these might have an impact on the development:

bulletContaminated areas of land or water

bulletPotential public health risks

bulletPotential negative effects of development on a nearby community

12. What would lead to the need for other studies/investigations?

If the environmental assessment shows that a significant impact/consequences could potentially be triggered by development, then there may need to be a more thorough assessment done.

However, this often isn’t necessary, especially if there are only minimal impacts shown.

13. How must does it cost for an environmental impact statement?

It depends on the project.

According to the DOE, the median EIS contractor cost was $1.4 million.

The typical environmental impact statement costs between $250,000 to $2 million based on governmentwide cost estimates.

14. Who writes an environmental impact statement?

Environmental impact statements can have one or more authors.

Federal agencies will typically outsource this writing to a third-party contractor, which may include lawyers, scientists, and engineers.

These individuals will have specific expertise in writing and preparing environmental impact statements in relation to their proposed projects.

15. When must an EIS be prepared?

When you publish the final environmental impact statement, you begin the minimum 30-day “wait period” in which agencies are generally required to wait 30 days before making a final decision on a proposed action.

The EPA publishes a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register.

This announces the availability of both draft and final environmental impact statements to the public.

Final thoughts

Completing an environmental impact statement is required by the federal government on certain projects.

It’s a much more comprehensive look at the piece of land than other environmental assessments and evaluates the cumulative impacts of the proposal along with any foreseeable future developments in an area.

If you’ve recently purchased land and are looking to utilize federal or state funding to build, be sure to check whether this will be required before you move forward with your plans.

You want to make sure you’re in compliance with all requirements.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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