Impact assessment: general principle

Impact assessment history began at 1970, it was the President, Richard Nixon, who signed NEPA into law, establish a national policy to encourage “productive and enjoyable harmony” between people and their environment. Because of that, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was established with its main job to monitor the environmental effects of all federal activities, assists the President in evaluating environmental probles and determines solutions to these problems.

At that time, few people thought that NEPA contained a “sleeper”, especially regarding Section 102(2)(C). I could not original statemen on the internet, but this page may be helpful. Let me know if you find one. That section requires federal agencies to evaluate with public input the consequences of any proposed action on the environment.

In short, each project funded by the federal government or requiring a federal permit must be accompanied by an environmental assessment, that will result into these following outcomes:

(1) Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Such a stand-alone finding results when potential environmental impacts are compared to a checklist of significant impacts, with the result that no significant impact can be identified.

(2) Environmental Assessment (EA). A detailed assessment of potential environmental impact resulting in one of two conclusions. Either the EA must be expanded to a full-scale and more detail environmental impact statement or a FONSI results from the EA.

(3) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS must assess in detail the potential environmental impacts of a proposed action and alternative actions. Additionally, the agencies must generally follow a detailed public review of each EIS before proceeding with the project or permit. It should be noted that both positive and negative impacts are included; i.e., “impact” does not imply “adverse impact” instead of general impact.

The important aspect of EIS was that, the statements are assessments and contain no judgements about the positive or negative value of the project in question. An EIS publication sequence is prescribed by law, first, a draft EIS (DEIS) is issued by the related federal agency. And then, after mandated public hearings and gathered comments, the federal agency issues a final EIS (FEIS). A Record of Decision (ROD), which includes the final decision about the project, the alternative chosen, and any value judgements, is also issued.

The purpose of environmental assessments was not to justify or fault projects, but to intoduece environmental elements into the decision-making process and have them discussed in public before decisions about the project are made. However, this objective is difficult to be implemented. There are several reasons. Alternatives may be articulated by various interest groups in and out of government, or the engineer may be left to create his or her own alternatives. Other, there aer normally one or two plans that seem more feasible and reasonable, and these are sometimes legitimized by juggling, for example, selected time scales or standards of enforcement patterns just slightly and calling them alternatives, as they are in a limited sense. Over the past few years, court decisions and guidelines by various agencies have, in fact, helped to mold this procedure for the development of environmental impact statements.

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