Introduction

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (PL91-190) has been referred to as the Magna Carta for the environment in the United States (Council on Environmental Quality 1993). The thrust of this act, as well as that of subsequent Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines and regulations, is to ensure that balanced decision making occurs in the total public interest. Project planning and decision making should consider technical, economic, environmental, social, and other factors. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) can be defined as the systematic identification and evaluation of the potential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans, programs, or legislative actions, relative to the physical-chemical, biological, cultural, and socioeconomic components of the environment. The primary purpose of the EIA process, also called the NEPA process, is to encourage the consideration of the environment in planning and decision making and to ultimately arrive at actions which are more environmentally compatible.

This chapter focuses on NEPA and the EIA process. Following an initial section related to background conceptual and administrative considerations, the chapter's emphasis is on practical methods and approaches used for impact identification, prediction, and assessment (interpretation), and on comparative evaluations of alternatives. Writing considerations and follow-on environmental monitoring are also addressed. The final sections relate to emerging issues and international activities.

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