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Key DefinitionsImpact Significance DeterminationTrends in Process Application
Development of a Simple MatrixSummary Observations on SimpleMatricesSimple Checklists
Classification of Prediction TechniquesCurrent Use of Techniques
Simple Techniques Indices and Experimental Methods Mathematical Models
Conceptual Basis for Tradeoff AnalysisImportance Weighting for DecisionFactorsScaling, Rating or Ranking of AlternativesDevelopment of a Decision MatrixExamples of Decision-FocusedChecklistsCurrent Trends in Decision-MakingToolsSummary Observations on Decision-FocusedChecklists
Environmental ImpactAssessment
Larry W. Canter
©1999 CRC Press LLC
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969(PL91–190) has been referred to as the Magna Carta forthe environment in the United States (Council on Envi-ronmental Quality 1993). The thrust of this act, as wellas that of subsequent Council on Environmental Quality(CEQ) guidelines and regulations, is to ensure that bal-anced decision making occurs in the total public interest.Project planning and decision making should considertechnical, economic, environmental, social, and other fac-tors. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) can be de-fined as the systematic identification and evaluation of thepotential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans, pro-grams, or legislative actions, relative to the physical–chem-ical, biological, cultural, and socioeconomic componentsof the environment. The primary purpose of the EIAprocess, also called the NEPA process, is to encourage theconsideration of the environment in planning and decisionmaking and to ultimately arrive at actions which are moreenvironmentally compatible.This chapter focuses on NEPA and the EIA process.Following an initial section related to background con-ceptual and administrative considerations, the chapter’semphasis is on practical methods and approaches used forimpact identification, prediction, and assessment (inter-pretation), and on comparative evaluations of alternatives.Writing considerations and follow-on environmental mon-itoring are also addressed. The final sections relate toemerging issues and international activities.
Council on Environmental Quality. 1993.
 Environmental quality.
Twenty-third Annual Report. January:151–172. Washington, D.C.:U.S. Government Printing Office.
©1999 CRC Press LLC
Section 102 of the NEPA has three primary parts relatedto the EIA process. Part A specifies that all federal gov-ernment agencies will use a systematic, interdisciplinaryapproach, which ensures the integrated use of the naturaland social sciences and environmental design arts in plan-ning and decision making that may impact the human en-vironment. Part B requires agencies to identify and developmethods and procedures to ensure that presently unquan-tified environmental amenities and values are consideredin decision making along with economic and technical con-siderations. This part has provided impetus for the devel-opment of environmental assessment methods. Part Cstates the necessity for preparing environmental statements(called environmental impact statements or EISs) and iden-tifies basic items to be included.To aid the implementation of the EIS requirement, theNEPA also created the Council on Environmental Quality(CEQ) within the Executive Office of the President of theUnited States. This council has the role of providing over-all coordination to the EIA process in the United States.CEQ issued guidelines in 1971 and 1973 for federal agen-cies to follow in conjunction with EISs. In 1978, the CEQissued regulations which became effective in mid-1979 forresponding to the requirements of the NEPA (Council onEnvironmental Quality 1978).
Key Definitions
A key feature of the CEQ regulations is the concept of three levels of analysis; Level 1 relates to a categorical ex-clusion determination, Level 2 to the preparation of an en-vironmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significantimpact, and Level 3 to the preparationof an EIS (U.S.Environmental Protection Agency 1989). Figure 2.1.1 de- picts the interrelationships between these three levels. Keydefinitions from the CEQ regulations related to Figure2.1.1 include federal action, categorical exclusion, EA,finding of no significant impact, significant impact, andEIS.Federal actions include the adoption of official policy(rules, regulations, legislation, and treaties) which result inor alter agency programs; adoption of formal plans; adop-tion of programs; and approval of specific projects, suchas construction or management activities located in a de-fined geographic area, and actions approved by permit orother regulatory decision as well as federal and federallyassisted activities. The EIA process is typically applied toproposed projects. Key information needed in applying theEIA process to a proposed project includes items such as:1.A description of the type of project and how it func-tions or operates in a technical context
2.The proposed location for the project and why it waschosen3.The time period required for project construction4.The potential environmental requirements or outputs(stresses) from the project during its operational phase,including land requirements, air pollution emissions,water use and water pollutant emissions, and waste gen-eration and disposal needs5.The identified current need for the proposed project inthe location where it is proposed (this need could berelated to housing, flood control, industrial develop-ment, economic development, and many other re-quirements); project need must be addressed as part of the environmental documentation6.Any alternatives which have been considered, withgeneric alternatives for projects including site location,project size, project design features and pollution con-trol measures, and project timing relative to construc-tion and operational issues; project need in relation tothe proposed project size should be clearly delineated;the range of alternatives may be limited due to the in-dividual preferences of project sponsors, primary focuson traditional engineering solutions, and time pressuresfor decision making (Bacow 1980)A categorical exclusion refers to a category of actionswhich do not individually or cumulatively have a signifi-cant effect on the human environment and have no sucheffect in procedures adopted by a federal agency in im-plementation of the CEQ regulations. Neither an EA noran EIS is required for categorical exclusions.An EA is a concise public document that serves to pro-vide sufficient evidence and analysis for determiningwhether to prepare an EIS or a finding of no significantimpact (FONSI), aid an agency’s compliance with theNEPA when no EIS is necessary, or facilitate preparationof an EIS when one is necessary. A FONSI is a documentwritten by a federal agency briefly presenting the reasonswhy an action, not otherwise excluded, will not have asignificant effect on the human environment and for whichan EIS will not be prepared. A mitigated FONSI refers toa proposed action that has incorporated mitigation mea-sures to reduce any significant negative effects to insignif-icant ones.The key definition in the EIA process is
significant impact 
since a proposed action which signifi-cantly affects the human environment requires an EIS.
as used in the NEPA requires considerationsof both context and intensity. Context means that signif-icance must be analyzed relative to society as a whole (hu-man, national), the affected region, the affected interests,the locality, and whether the effects are short- or long-term. Intensity refers to the severity of impact. The fol-lowing should be considered in evaluating intensity:1.Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse (Asignificant effect may exist even if the federal agencybelieves that on balance the effect will be beneficial)2.The degree to which the proposed action affects pub-lic health or safety3.Unique characteristics of the geographic area, such asproximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands,prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, orecologically critical areas4.The degree to which the effects on the quality of thehuman environment are likely to be controversial5.The degree to which the possible effects on the humanenvironment are uncertain or involve unique or un-known risks6.The degree to which the action may establish a prece-dent for future actions with significant effects or rep-resents a decision in principle about a future consid-eration7.Whether the action is related to other actions with in-dividually insignificant but cumulatively significantimpacts (Significance exists if a cumulatively signifi-cant impact on the environment is anticipated.Significance cannot be avoided by terming an actiontemporary or by breaking it down into componentparts)8.The degree to which the action may adversely affectdistricts, sites, highways, structures, or objects listedin or eligible for listing in the
 National Register of  Historic Places
or may cause loss or destruction of sig-nificant scientific, cultural, or historical resources9.The degree to which the action may adversely affectan endangered or threatened species or its habitat thathas been determined to be critical under the Endan-gered Species Act of 1973
©1999 CRC Press LLC
FIG. 2.1.1
Three levels of analysis in the EIA process. Numberin parentheses denotes paragraph in CEQ regulations which con-tains definition (Council on Environmental Quality 1987).

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