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E-M:/ Environmental Assessment vs. Environmental Impact Statement

Enviro-Mich message from Mike Boyce <birder@voyager.net>

Christian Howd recently posted a notice from GLIN that mentioned that
Representative Robert Emerson was working on a bill to require MDEQ to
conduct Environmental Impact Statements.  The article ends with: "The
net result would be an environmental assessment that more accurately and
scientifically identifies and mitigates negative environmental impacts
to the community."

I have often wondered what the difference was between an Environmental
Assessment and an Environmental Impact Statement.  Recently I discoverd
the following information that helped clear-up the mystery.  I'm
sharring it here for the benifit of others who may have also wanted
clarification of the differences.  Also, a reminder to us all, it is
crucially important that we know the meanings and differences of the
terms we use.  And finally, a warning that Representative Emerson may be
interested in; It is important to make "crystal clear" what we (society)
expect an EIS to accomplish.  If we want and expect it to direct
substantive requirements on an agency we had beter say so.  Otherwise,
we could find ourselves in court with the agency arguing an EIS merely
prohibits uninformed -- rather than unwise -- agency action.

SIERRA CLUB, ET AL., Plaintiffs-Appellees, versus MIKE ESPY,
            in his official capacity as Secretary of Agriculture, ET
                          AL., Defendants-Appellants.

                                  No. 93-5050


             38 F.3d 792; 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 31914; 25 ELR 20426

                           November 15, 1994, Decided

. . . This court recently reviewed NEPA's requirements in Sabine River
Auth. v.
United States Dep't of Interior, 951 F.2d 669  [**29]   (5th Cir.),
denied, 113 S. Ct. 75 (1992). There we held that NEPA "is a procedural
that . . . . does not command the agency to favor an environmentally
course of action, only that it make its decision to proceed with the
after taking a 'hard look at environmental consequences.'" Id. at 676
Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 350, 104 L.
Ed. 2d
351, 109 S. Ct. 1835 (1989)). Notably, Sabine recognized that while
statutes may impose substantive requirements on an agency, "NEPA merely
prohibits uninformed -- rather than unwise -- agency action." 951 F.2d
at 676
(internal quotation marks omitted).

   An EIS must contain "a detailed statement of the expected adverse
environmental consequences of an action, the resource commitments
involved in
it, and the alternatives to it." Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390,
401-02, 49
L. Ed. 2d 576, 96 S. Ct. 2718 (1976). An EA, on the other hand, is
prepared in
order to determine  [**30]   whether an EIS is required. Sabine, 951
F.2d at
677. An EA is a "rough-cut, low-budget environmental impact statement"
to determine whether environmental effects are significant enough to
preparation of an EIS. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). An EA
"include brief discussions of the need for the proposal,   [*803]   of
alternatives . . ., of the environmental impacts of the proposed action
alternatives, and a listing of agencies and persons consulted." 40
C.F.R. @

   While an EA must contain a discussion of alternatives, the range of
alternatives that the Forest Service must consider "decreases as the
environmental impact of the proposed action becomes less and less
Olmsted Citizens for a Better Community v. United States, 793 F.2d 201,
208 (8th
Cir. 1986) (upholding consideration of a limited range of alternatives
when a
finding of no significant environmental impact was made). Notably, the
court in Sabine pointed out that "although consideration of some range
alternatives is essential to any environmental assessment, it makes
little sense
to fault an agency  [**31]   for failing to consider more
environmentally sound
alternatives to a project which it has properly determined, through its
not to file an impact statement, will have no significant environmental
anyway." Sabine River Auth. v. United States Dep't of Interior, 745 F.
388, 399 (E.D. Tex. 1990) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd, 951
669 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 113 S. Ct. 75 (1992). Accord Missouri
Mining, Inc.
v. Interstate Commerce Comm'n, 33 F.3d 980, 984 (8th Cir. 1994); City of
York v. United States Dep't of Transp., 715 F.2d 732, 744 (2d Cir.
1983), appeal
dismissed, 465 U.S. 1055 (1984). . .

Hope this helps clear up any confusion.

Mike Boyce
Michigan Audubon Society

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