A. General Concepts
In This Section You Will Learn:
- contents of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS);
- differences between specific and generic EISs;
- information on preparing stages of an EIS (draft, final and supplemental); and,
- general procedures to go from a draft EIS to a final EIS.
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A. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS - GENERAL CONCEPTS
1. What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a document that impartially analyzes the full range of potential significant adverse environmental impacts of a proposed action and how those impacts can be avoided or minimized. An EIS can be labeled as draft, final, supplemental or generic. A draft EIS is the version of the EIS which the lead agency makes available for public review and comment. In a final EIS, the lead agency responds to the substantive comments or issues identified during the public review period. A lead agency may, under specific circumstances, require a supplemental EIS to address issues that were not addressed or were inadequately addressed in either the draft or final EIS. Finally, a generic EIS may be used to address broad planning questions or multiple sites (see question 3 of this section).
2. What is the purpose of an EIS?
An EIS provides a means for agencies to give early consideration to environmental factors, and assists in the balancing of environmental issues with social and economic considerations in planning and decision making. The EIS systematically considers the full range of potential environmental impacts, along with other aspects of project planning and design. The EIS must identify and analyze significant adverse environmental impacts; evaluate alternatives to avoid one or more of those impacts; and discuss mitigation measures which could minimize identified impacts. EIS procedures also provide the means for public review and comment about a proposed action. SEQR is intended to be integrated into existing agency review procedures so that the preparation of an EIS occurs at the same time that underlying jurisdictional reviews are being undertaken.
3. What is the difference between a site specific or project specific EIS and a generic EIS?
A site or project specific EIS deals with the impacts of a particular action proposed for a specific location at a particular point in time. A site or project specific EIS is the most common type of EIS used during SEQR review.
A second type of EIS is a generic EIS (GEIS). A generic EIS may be appropriate if:
- a number of separate actions are proposed in a given geographic area and which, if considered singly, may have minor effects, but if considered together may have significant adverse environmental impacts;
- a sequence of related or contingent actions is planned by a single agency or individual;
- separate actions share common (generic) impacts; or
- a proposed program or plan would have wide application or restrict the range of future alternative policies or projects.
Information on the generic EIS can be found at 617.10.
4. How long must an EIS be?
There is no set length for an EIS. Accepted EISs have range from as little as ten pages to multiple volumes, depending on the scope and scale of the project and the level of detail needed to properly assess the impacts identified. An EIS should assemble relevant and material facts upon which an agency's decision is to be made. It should identify the essential issues to be decided and must evaluate the range of reasonable alternatives which could avoid one or more of the identified impacts.
EISs should be analytical, concise, and not encyclopedic. Lead agencies are looking for quality analyses, clear writing and comprehensive information. EISs should not contain more detail than is necessary to address the nature and magnitude of the proposed action and the significance of its potential impacts. EISs should address only those specific adverse or beneficial environmental impacts which:
- can be reasonably anticipated;
- have been identified in the scoping process;
- or both.
EISs should be written in plain language that can be read and understood by all. Highly technical material should be summarized in the text of the EIS and, if that technical material must be presented in its entirety, it should be included as an appendix. It is not necessary to include marginal information, or copies of all prior correspondence regarding the project, as a hedge against legal challenge. If an EIS contains much extraneous and unnecessary information, the impact discussion becomes diluted, and the EIS itself becomes less useful.
5. Who prepares an EIS?
A draft EIS may be prepared either by the project sponsor or applicant, or by the lead agency. It is most common for the applicant or project sponsor to prepare the draft EIS. The project sponsor or applicant has the option of preparing the draft EIS, or requesting that the lead agency do so. However, the lead agency has the right to decline to prepare the EIS, and may terminate its review of the proposed project if the applicant or sponsor still declines to prepare the EIS (see 617.9(a)(1)).
A final EIS is the responsibility of the lead agency. The lead agency may prepare the final EIS itself, or request that the project sponsor respond to the substantive comments and submit a preliminary version of the final EIS. The lead agency must review a sponsor's proposed final EIS, and modify it however necessary to ensure that the final EIS represents the lead agency's assessment of the proposed project. A lead agency may also seek advice from other involved agencies and consultants in completing the final EIS.
Draft and final supplemental EISs, if needed, are also usually prepared by the project sponsor at the request of the lead agency. A generic EIS, both draft and final, is most often prepared by the lead agency itself. Under prescribed circumstances, the SEQR rules allow a lead agency to charge back costs of a GEIS to individual applicants within the studied area.
6. Would a draft or supplemental EIS contain more reliable information if it were prepared by the lead agency or an independent third party, rather than the applicant?
Draft and supplemental EISs would probably not be more reliable because applicants or sponsors know best what their original concepts are, and the draft EIS provides the opportunity to present their ideas in relation to identified potential impacts. Regardless of preparer, the draft EIS must meet the minimum content standards for an EIS, conform to the specific scope or content specified by the lead agency, and be accepted as adequate for public review by the lead agency.
During the required public review and comment period, all draft EISs are subject to public scrutiny. Involved agencies and interested parties, therefore, have the opportunity to use their comments on the draft EIS to raise questions about their specific environmental concerns, including their assessment as to whether those concerns were adequately dealt with in the draft EIS. Because responses to all substantive comments on the draft EIS must be included in the final EIS, this public scrutiny helps ensure that all relevant impacts will be adequately addressed during the EIS process. The final EIS is produced by the lead agency, and must provide guidance for all the underlying jurisdictional decisions which must be made by all involved agencies regarding the proposed project.
7. If an involved agency has no environmental concerns about an action for which an EIS is being prepared, may it make an immediate decision on the action?
No. Until a final EIS has been filed, no agency may issue a decision on an action when that agency is aware that any other involved agency has determined that the action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment.
8. Who pays for the preparation of an EIS?
If an applicant prepares an EIS, it is done at the applicant's cost. If there is more than one applicant involved in the overall action, they may share the cost of the EIS preparation. If the EIS relates to a direct agency action and no applicant is involved, the agency bears the cost of its preparation. If an agency agrees to prepare an EIS for an applicant, it may charge for such preparation, but may not charge for subsequent review activities. There is a limit on the amount that a lead agency may charge an applicant for preparation of an EIS (see 617.13 Fees and Costs).
9. Who determines the adequacy of a draft EIS?
The lead agency determines the adequacy of a draft EIS prior to its release for public review. (See section 5-D: Review of Draft EISs)
10. What requirements are there for attaching DEIS hearing transcripts to the FEIS?
While in all cases a summary of substantive comments from a DEIS hearing must be included in the main body of the FEIS, there is no absolute rule on how hearing transcripts should be included in the FEIS record. The hearing record can be made available for public review as part of the FEIS by either including the hearing transcript as an appendix to the FEIS, or by providing the transcript as a stand alone document, including information on where the full transcript is available. Hard copies of extremely long transcripts, for example, might be made available only with those copies of the FEIS which are filed in public repositories, while electronic copies of the hearing transcript could be provided with all other copies of the FEIS. Short transcripts may be hard copy appendices to all copies of an FEIS.
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