((SpecsPsy}} An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an assessment of the likely human environmental health impact, risk to ecological health, and changes to nature's services that a project may have. The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision-makers consider environmental impacts before deciding whether to proceed with new projects.


The US Environmental Protection Agency pioneered the use of pathway analysis to determine the likely human health impact of environmental factors. The technology for performing such analysis is properly labelled environmental science. The principal phenomena or pathways of impact are: soil contamination impacts, air pollution impacts, noise health effects, ecology impacts including endangered species assessment, geological hazards assessment and water pollution impacts. Pathway analysis and The Natural Step definitions later became the basis of the global ISO 14000 series of environmental management standards and the more recent ISO 19011 accounting standard; however, these ISO standards are not in common use in the U.S. and most other countries.

After an EIA analysis, the Precautionary Principle and Polluter Pays may be applied to prevent, limit, or require strict liability or insurance coverages to a project, based on its likely harms.

Environmental impact analysis is sometimes controversial and contested. Related analysis of social impacts is achieved by Social impact assessment. Analysis of business impacts is achieved by Context analysis. Design impacts are assessed in relation to Context theory.

EIA around the worldEdit


The Environmental Impact Assessment Law (EIA Law)requires an environmental impact assessment to be completed prior to project construction. However, if a developer completely ignores this requirement and builds a project without submitting an environmental impact statement, the only penalty is that the environmental protection bureau (EPB) may require the developer to do a make-up environmental assessment. If the developer does not complete this make-up assessment within the designated time, only then is the EPB authorized to fine the developer. Even so, the possible fine is capped at a maximum of about US$25,000, a fraction of the overall cost of most major projects. The lack of more stringent enforcement mechanisms has resulted in a significant percentage of projects not completing legally required environmental impact assessments prior to construction. [1]

China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) used the legislation to halt 30 projects in 2004, including three hydro-power plants under the Three Gorges Project Company. Although one month later (Note as a point of reference, that the typical EIA for a major project in the USA takes one to two years.), most of the 30 halted projects resumed their construction, reportedly having passed the environmental assessment, the fact that these key projects' construction was ever suspended was notable.

A joint investigation by SEPA and the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2004 showed that 30 to 40 per cent of the mining construction projects went through the procedure of environment impact assessment as required, while in some areas only 6 to 7 per cent did so. This partly explains why China has witnessed so many mining accidents in recent years.

SEPA alone cannot guarantee the full enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, observed Professor Wang Canfa, director of the centre to help environmental victims at China University of Political Sciences and Law. In fact, according to Wang, the rate of China's environmental laws and regulations that are actually enforced is estimated to be barely 10 per cent.[2]


The EIA Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment of the effects of projects on the environment was first introduced in 1985 and was amended in 1997. The directive was amended again in 2003 following the 1998 signature by the EU of the Aarhus Convention on public participation in environmental matters. The issue was enlarged to the assessment of plans and programmes by the so called SEA-Directive in 2001 which is now in force and establishes a mix of mandatory and discretionary procedures for assessing environmental impacts. [1]

Under the EU directive, EIA have to provide certain information to comply. There are 7 key areas that EIA are required to focus on. EIA must include:

1. Description of the project

  • Description of actual project, site etc
  • Break the project down into its key components, ie construction, operations, decommissioning
  • For each component list all of the sources of environmental disturbance
  • For each component all the inputs and outputs must be listed, eg, waste etc

2. Alternatives that have been considered

  • Examine alternatives that have been considered
  • Eg - In a biomass power station, will the fuel be sourced locally or nationally?

3. Description of the environment

  • List of all aspects of the environment that may be effected by the development
  • eg populations, fauna, flora, air, soil, water, humans, landscape, cultural heritage
  • This section is best carried out with the help of local experts, eg the RSPB in the UK

4. Description of the significant effects on the environment

  • The word significant is crucial here as the definition can vary
  • 'Significant' needs to be defined
  • The most frequent method used here is use of the Leopold matrix
  • The maxtrix is a tool used in the systematic examination of potential interactions
  • Eg In a windfarm development a significant impact may be collisions with birds

5. Mitigation

  • This is where EIA is most useful
  • Once section 4 has been completed it will be obvious where the impacts will be greatest
  • Using this information ways to avoid negative impacts should be developed
  • Best working with the developer with this section as they know the project best
  • Using the windfarm example again construction could be out of bird nesting seasons

6. Non-technical summary

  • The EIA will be in the public domain and be used in the decision making process
  • It is important that the information is available to the public
  • This section is a summary that does not include jargon or complicated diagrams
  • It should be understood by the informed lay-person

7. Lack of know-how/technical difficulties

  • This section is to advise any areas of weakness in knowledge
  • It can be used to focus areas of future research
  • Some developers see the EIA as a starting block for good environmental management

New ZealandEdit

In New Zealand, EIA is usually referred to as Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). The first use of EIA's dates back to a Cabinet minute passed in 1974 called Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures. This had no legal force and only related to the activities of government departments. When the Resource Management Act was passed in 1991, an EIA was required as part of a resource consent application. Section 88 of the Act spells this out.

United StatesEdit

Under United States environmental law an EIA is referred to as the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and originated in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in the United States in 1969. Certain actions of federal agencies must be preceded by an EIS. Contrary to a widespread misconception, NEPA does not prohibit the federal government or its licensees/permittees from harming the environment, nor does it specify any penalty if the EIS turns out to be inaccurate, intentionally or otherwise. NEPA merely requires that plausible statements as to the prospective impacts be disclosed in advance. It is only a procedural requirement.

Usually, an agency will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for comment. Interested parties and the general public have the opportunity to comment on the draft, after which the agency will approve the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Occasionally, the agency will later release a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

The adequacy of an EIS can be challenged in court. Major proposed projects have been blocked because of an agency's failure to prepare an acceptable EIS. One prominent example was the Westway landfill and highway development in and along the Hudson River in New York City [2]. Another prominent case involved the Sierra Club suing the Nevada Department of Transportation over its denial of Sierra Club's request to issue a supplemental EIS addressing air emissions of particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants in the case of widening US Highway 95 through Las Vegas.[3] The case reached the 9th Circuit Court of the United States, which led to construction on the highway being halted until the court's final decision. The case was settled prior to the court's final decision.

Several US state governments that have adopted "little NEPA's," i.e., state laws imposing EIS requirements for particular state actions and some of those state laws refer tp the required environmental impact studies as Environmental Impact Reports or Environmental Impact Assessments. [4] For example, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

These various state requirements are yielding voluminous data not just upon impacts of individual projects, but also to elucidate scientific areas that had not been sufficiently researched. For example, in a seemingly routine Environmental Impact Report for the city of Monterey, California, information came to light that led to the official federal endangered species listing of Hickman's potentilla, a rare coastal wildflower.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. Dr. Michael Watson, Environmental Impact Assessment and European Community Law, XIV International Conference "Danube-River of Cooperation", Beograd, November 13-15, 2003.
  2. Court decision in Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers
  3. News item in USA Today
  4. Sive,D. & Chertok,M., "Little NEPAs" and Environmental Impact Assessment Procedures

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