Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

Community Development

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Environmental Impact Statements

CDFS-188

Joe E. Heimlich
Mitchell Smith

Whenever projects or programs are planned, there are potential impacts upon the environment. When these proposed projects are federally funded, such impacts become important to the public. What these impacts may be and the magnitudeoftheir effectare reported in Environmental Impact Statements. This fact sheet addresses both the purpose and the limitations of these written public documents.

Environmental Impact Statements

Environmental impact statements are reports that outline the predicted environmental effects of a particular action or project in which the federal government is involved. These statements are often important in environmental regulation and litigation. Environmental impact statements of a necessary or projected activity highlight the significant environmental ramifications of a project, describing alternative actions which also must include no action being taken.

Environmental impact statements are required by Section 102(2) (C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (PL91-190) which requires federal agencies to consider the probable environmental effects of projects and programs under their control. The Act also established the Council on Environmental Quality. This three-member board advises the President on environmental matters and reviews federal programs in terms of the country's environmental policies. In 1971, the Council established procedural and content guidelines for environmental impact statements. The most significant revisions comprise the 1978 guidelines, which are essentially what is in use today.

Contents of an Environmental Impact Statement

An environmental impact statement for a proposed project outlines in detail the proposed actions, alternative actions(including no action), and their probable environmental ramifications. The environmental impact statement must coverall plausible bases, which are generally determined by the rule of reason. If a "reasonable person" would consider an activity sufficiently significant to warrant further discussion, it should be included in the environmental impact statement. The environmental impact statement must also give information on the probable impact of alternative actions outside the jurisdiction of the responsible agency.

Although requirements differ between situations, the environmental impact statement must discuss the total impact on the environment (see Figure 1). According to the Council on Environmental Quality guidelines, it should consider:

National Environmental Policy Act, PL 91-190

Section 102 (2) (C)

The Congress authorizes and directs that, to the fullest extent possible, all agencies of the federal government shall include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by responsible officials on:

  • the environmental impact of the proposed action,
  • any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented,
  • alternatives to the proposed action,
  • the relationship between local short-term uses of man's environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and
  • any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.

Figure 1.

Necessity of Environmental Impact Statements

The National Environmental Policy Act requires an environmental impact statement when a project is federally controlled and is potentially environmentally significant. A project is federally controlled when it requires:

The environmental impact is determined to be significant by examining similar prior activities and applying the rule of reason.

Preparation of Environmental Impact Statements

The assurance of completion of an environmental impact statement is the responsibility of the federal agency controlling the project. That agency is also responsible for any legal consequences of the environmental impact statement. Agencies with sufficient staff and technical expertise may prepare their own Environmental Impact Statements. This is the typical practice when the agency directly designs and implements the project itself. Federal agencies whose primary role is to provide funding to state or local agencies directing a project may require them to prepare environmental impact statements as part of their funding applications. State or local agencies may use outside consultants to prepare environmental impact statements, as well as to design and implement the project. Federal agencies with licensing power, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and EPA, often require private sector applicants to prepare environmental impact statements, which is often submitted with the license application. In all cases, the environmental impact statement becomes the responsibility of the federal agency providing the license.

Participation in the Environmental Impact Statement Process

According to the National Environmental Policy Act, Environmental Impact Statements must be made available to the public, federal, state and local authorities, the President and the Council on Environmental Quality; subsequent legislation requires that they also be filed with United States EPA. The Council on Environmental Quality guidelines require that agencies responsible for Environmental Impact Statements hold public meetings when proposed projects foster strong debate or interest. Each agency must also provide the public with information on how to participate in the environmental impact statement review process. Interested parties may contact the responsible agency to be placed on their environmental impact statement mailing list. The agency must allow adequate time for comments before a final environmental impact statement is published. The final environmental impact statement must address these comments and the agency's responses to them.


All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181



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