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What is an Environmental Impact Statement?


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An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is an important tool that has the objective of making certain federal and other activities more responsible towards the environment. Created in the background of increased awareness of the profound awareness of lifestyles and the workplace of Americans in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when a series of laws and regulations were framed in these areas; the Environmental Impact Statement is a tool that assures better utilization of the environment. It synergizes the environmental, business, and social and cultural aspects.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a statement that is prepared to describe and explain the impact an activity has on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers an “impact” in this context as any activity that results in some kind of consequence to the environment. So, what is the environment according to the EPA? It includes any or all of these:

environmental-impact-statement-eisThe last of these is the biggest differentiator between this and other legislations in this area. The Environmental Impact Statement is the culmination of thought that has gone into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The cultural and human aspects of any activity on the environment are considered its most important aspect.

When an impact is made on the environment, it is natural to associate the word “impact” in this context with something that is negative. But it is not so for the EPA. An environmental impact can be either positive or negative, and the activity that causes either has of these has to report it.

Apart from defining what an impact is; the EPA also describes what is to be done to mitigate a negative impact.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) brought about the Environmental Impact Statement. The NEPA was promulgated in 1969. The highlight of NEPA regulations is that they take the whole spectrum of human activity on the environment into consideration, and as such, require the appropriate federal agencies to discuss the effects of a proposed action on the environment.

NEPA also offers a broad scope for fairly reasonable alternatives in an EIS. It requires those involved in any activity that comes under the scope of the NEPA to include comprehensive information in the EIS so that the Environmental Impact Statement reviewers have enough material to evaluate the merits that each alternative offers.

Elements of an EISAn Environmental Impact Statement needs to have the following elements:

  • Cover sheet, which includes information about the activity and its stakeholders and contact details
  • Summary, in which the scope of the activity is to be mentioned, along with the areas of dispute or contention
  • Table of contents
  • Purpose and need statement, which explains the need and nature of the activity
  • Alternatives, which explain the various alternatives that can be taken up
  • Environment that gets affected
  • List of persons, organizations and agencies to which the Environmental Impact Statement was sent
  • Appendices if required
Supplement to the EISThe Environmental Impact Statement may have a supplement added to it in the event of the following:

environmental-impact-statement-eis
Current situation of the Environmental Impact Statement and prospectsThe Environmental Impact Statement is hailed as an important tool that goes a long way in taking the human, social and cultural aspects an activity has on the environment into consideration in a more holistic manner than other laws. Yet, given that the Environmental Impact Statement concept came into being many years before the advent of the Internet; there is sufficient scope for improving its functions and utilities in the years to come. With the Internet having spawned many technologies and tools such as spatial data and GIS; the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement has got expanded further. The EPA has a greater opportunity coming up with the use of these technologies.

 

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