Understanding Environmental Jargon
In the lexicon of environmental regulation, there are many acronyms that refer to the various agencies, legislation, and regulations that govern current environmental policy. Instead of addressing a specific issue this month, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss what some of these terms mean and why it is important for us, as environmentally concerned individuals, to understand them. Among the acronyms that are most relevant to us, I think that EIS and EIR are near the top of the list.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required of federal agencies by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA applies to projects that are carried out, financed, or approved in whole or part by federal agencies. Under NEPA, an EIS is required for major projects or legislative proposals that significantly affect the environment. An EIS provides federal agencies and the general public with detailed information on the significant environmental effects that could potentially result from a proposed action. The EIS describes the positive and negative effects of the undertaking and cites alternative actions. It is used as a tool for decision making by the agencies involved and provides an opportunity for the public to give feedback.
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required of state agencies by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The goals of CEQA are for California's public agencies to identify the significant environmental effects of their actions, and, either avoid those significant environmental effects, where feasible, or mitigate those significant environmental effects, where feasible. CEQA applies to “projects” proposed to be undertaken or requiring approval by State and local government agencies. Although an EIR is not required of all projects, an EIR must be prepared when there is substantial evidence in the record that supports a fair argument that significant effects may occur. Similar to an EIS, the purpose of an EIR is to provide state and local agencies and the general public with detailed information on the potentially significant environmental effects that a proposed project is likely to have. In addition, the EIR lists ways which the significant environmental effects resulting from the project may be minimized, and must indicate alternatives to the project.
For many projects, such as CALFED or the Trinity River Project, both federal and state agencies are involved and a joint EIS/EIR can be prepared which meets the requirements of both NEPA and CEQA. This streamlines the process for both the federal and state agencies and results in a combined EIS/EIR.
As conservation-minded individuals or groups, we are often called upon to comment on draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) when they are released to the public. When a draft EIS (or EIR) is released, a review period usually extends for 45 days during which Public Comment is accepted. This Public Comment provides an important exchange through which the public can express their concerns about any negative environmental impacts that will result from the proposed action and allows the public to address any issues that were not considered sufficiently in the draft EIS. These comments are then addressed in the Final EIS, which is prepared at the end of the review period. As a result, it is important that we take the opportunity to express our concerns when the need arises because it can impact the final decision.
Much of the information found in this column comes from the following sites: http://ceres.ca.gov/ and http://www.epa.gov/.