Environmental Impact Statement

What Is an Environmental Impact Statement?

An environmental impact statement is a government report that outlines how a proposed federal project might affect the natural environment. Environmental impact statements are required for certain major infrastructure projects, although they are not required for smaller projects.

Regulators use environmental impact statements to weigh the benefits of planned projects against their environmental consequences. In the draft stage, there is a comment period where the public can weigh in.

Key Takeaways

  • Environmental impact statements are reports that discuss the potential impact on the environment of proposed federal government projects.
  • Environmental impact statements are available on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.
  • An EIS must include a reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed action, as well as their consequences.
  • An EIS is different from an environmental assessment, a shorter report that may lead to an EIS.
  • The public can weigh in on environmental impact statements when they are in the draft stage.

Understanding Environmental Impact Statements

Environmental impact statements are required by Section 102(2) (C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and are reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The public may comment on an EIS while it is in its draft stage, and the comments may be taken into consideration when the EIS is being finalized.

All EISs are published in the Federal Register and available online at the EPA's website. All current EISs in the draft stage are also available. The environmental agency makes statements available after they have been finalized. Historical EISs, dating back to 1969, can be found at Northwestern University's Transportation Library.

In addition to outlining proposed actions, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) also outlines possible alternatives and the potential environmental impacts of the proposed alternatives. Some states, such as California, have adopted similar requirements for their taxpayer-funded projects.

Liquid natural gas, electric transmission, and ecosystem management are among the EIS topics listed on the EPA's website.

Process of Filing an Environmental Impact Statement

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process of approving an environmental impact statement begins when a federal agency develops a proposal to take significant federal action, and those proposed actions are reviewed under the NEPA to see if the proposal is appropriate. 

It is no small feat when federal agencies create an environmental impact statement (EIS). According to the NEPA website, the action must be proven to "significantly affect the quality of the human environment."

First, an agency must publish a "Notice of Intent in the Federal Register" and this informs the public not only about the analysis to some but also explains how the public can get involved in the process of the EIS preparation. Then, the federal agency and the public collaborate to define the range of issues and potential alternatives to be addressed in the statement.

Next, a draft of the statement is published for public comment and review for 45 days or longer. After the comments are collected, then the suggestions, when appropriate are used for further research, and then a final EIS is published, and there is a 30-day waiting period before the statement can be published in the Federal Register.

The last step is what is called the "issuance of the record of decision (ROD)", which discusses the agency's plans for monitoring and mitigation, the alternatives to the actions that were considered, and explains the agency's decision for taking the action.

Components of an Environmental Impact Statement

According to the EPA, the components of an EIS are as follows:

  • Cover sheet: including the name of the lead agency and any cooperating agency
  • Agency contact information
  • The title of the proposed action and its location
  • A paragraph abstract of the EIS
  • The date when comments must be received.
  • Summary: A summary of the EIS, including the major conclusions, area of disputed issues, and the issues to be resolved.
  • Table of Contents: Assists the reader in navigating through the EIS.
  • Purpose and need statement: Explains the reason the agency is proposing the action and what the agency expects to achieve.
  • Alternatives: Consideration of a reasonable range of alternatives that can accomplish the purpose and need of the proposed action.
  • Affected environment: Describes the environment of the area to be affected by the alternatives under consideration.
  • Environmental consequences: A discussion of the environmental effects and their significance.
  • Submitted alternatives, information, and analyses: A summary that identifies all alternatives, information, and analyses submitted by state, tribal, and local governments and other public commenters for consideration during the scoping process or in developing the final EIS.
  • List of preparers: A list of the names and qualifications of the persons who were primarily responsible for preparing the EIS.
  • Appendices (if required): Appendices provide background materials prepared in connection with the EIS.

An EIS will identify the potential environmental, economic benefits, and challenges of a proposed project.

Benefits of an Environmental Impact Statement

The benefit of creating an EIS is that everyone from local, state, and federal agencies to the general public has an opportunity to comment and make suggestions to the proposal. In addition, tribal governments that might be impacted are also included in the process.

When the scoping process is underway, it creates an opportunity to brainstorm alternative ideas and discuss impacts to communities. The lengthy period it takes to complete an EIS is the chance to create positive environmental change.

Examples of an Environmental Impact Statement

For example, on the site as of November 2019 is a finalized version of an EIS regarding the Gulf LNG Energy, LLC's (GLE) liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Jackson County, Mississippi. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) put together an EIS that looked at the potential environmental impacts of a proposal to add natural gas liquefaction and export capabilities at the already-functioning Gulf LNG Terminal. The Department of Energy (DOE) was involved in preparing the EIS.

There is an active (as of December 2021) EIS on the website that the public can view and comment on regarding electric transmission. The Bureau of Land Management and the DOE's Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) put together an EIS that looks at the potential environmental impacts of a proposal to build 305 miles of 500-kV transmission line from northeast Oregon to southwest Idaho. BPA wants to fund the project partially.

What Should be Included in an Environmental Impact Statement?

Among the items needed in an EIS are a summary, submitted alternatives, information, and analyses gathered from public comments and suggestions, the purpose and need of the EIS, and a list of environmental consequences.

What Is the Difference Between an Environmental Assessment (EA) and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIA)?

The difference between an EA and an EIS is mainly in its length and depth of research. An EA is limited in scope report explaining the account and needs for such a proposal, suggesting alternatives, and providing a brief review of the impacted environment. An EIS is a very comprehensive report that not only requires what an EA does but it calls for an in-depth examination of the proposal and considerations by the public, including local, state, and tribal governments. 

When Is an Environmental Impact Statement Required?

Any major project that uses federal land, federal funding, or that is under the jurisdiction of a federal agency must include an assessment of that project's environmental effects. This does not always require a full EIS, though. In some cases, a smaller project might only require a shorter environmental assessment. In other cases, there might be a finding of "no significant impact" (FONSI), allowing the project to proceed.

Who Prepares an Environmental Impact Statement?

An EIS must be filed by the federal agency in charge of the project in question. Agencies often outsource this work to contractors.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. "HHS General Administration Manual Part 30 Environmental Protection."

  2. Northwestern University Libraries. "Environmental Impact Statement Collection."

  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "National Environmental Policy Act Review Process."

  4. Department of Ecology, State of Washington. "Environmental Impact Statement Process."

  5. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "Gulf LNG Liquefaction Project: Final Environmental Impact Statement."

  6. Bureau of Land Management. "Final Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Land Use Plan Amendments for the Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line Project."

  7. American Bar Association. "What Is an Environmental Impact Statement?"