What is an EIS?

NEPA/SEPA environmental impact statements

To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), the Co-Lead Agencies (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Whatcom County and Washington Department of Ecology), are preparing two environmental impact statements (EISs).  Environmental review under both NEPA and SEPA is required to provide federal, state, and local decision makers with objective information prior to making decisions on permit applications.

Both NEPA and SEPA require the disclosure of environmental effects of a proposed action and the alternatives under consideration.  An EIS is prepared when a proposed action is likely to have a significant environmental impact on the quality of the natural or built environment.  Because this proposed action requires federal, state, and local decisions, the Co-Lead Agencies are preparing two EISs to meet both NEPA and SEPA requirements.  The EIS process includes three major milestones: scoping, draft EIS, and final EIS.  

Steps for a combined environmental impact statement

Scoping

The scoping process is used to determine what factors to analyze and what extent they are considered in an environmental impact statement (EIS).  The Co-Lead Agencies have asked the public, tribes, and other agencies to comment on what the EISs should analyze (comments were collected through January 22, 2013).  Verbal and written comments (including online submissions) were collected about what the EISs should study and suggestions for measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effects of the proposals.  

The comments received during the scoping process were summarized in a publicly available scoping report. After reviewing the submitted comments, the Co-Lead Agencies decided upon the scope of analysis to be covered in the EISs.

The Co-Lead Agencies are working to develop a reasonable range of alternatives for review in the EISs. The alternatives must include the proposal, the no-action alternative and other reasonable alternatives. 

Current phase = draft EIS

A draft EIS documents potential alternatives, environmental consequences and any appropriate mitigation or measures to reduce adverse impacts.  When the two draft EISs are released for comment (expected in mid-2015), the Co-Lead Agencies will accept comments for at least 45 days, holding public hearings to collect comments.  Information on how members of the public can review and comment will be available when the draft EISs are ready to be published.

The estimated schedule and key milestones for the EIS documents:

  • Alternatives Analysis:
    • For SEPA, the EIS will look at alternatives and adjustments on site that meet the proposal's objective, with a lower environmental costs. 
    • For NEPA, the EIS will look at a range of alternatives for project design and locations that are reasonably and practicably available to the applicants.
  • Environmental Evaluation:
    • The EISs will study the impact of the alternatives on the natural and human/built environment.
  • Publication of the draft EISs for public and agency review and comment (in mid-2015).
  • Hold public hearings to collect comments on the draft EIS findings; comments will be addressed in the final EIS.

Final EIS

A final EIS responds to public comments on the draft EIS.  The final EISs will include an appendix containing all comments received on the draft EISs, along with responses from the Co-Lead Agencies.  The body of the final EISs will have corrections and edits based on comments received.  The final EISs complete the Co-Lead Agencies’ environmental analysis for the proposal. Following the final EISs, each of the Co-Lead Agencies and other agencies have unique decision processes.