Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If an Applicant Concedes that its Proposed Action will have a Significant Effect, Why Prepare an Environmental Assessment?

In the July 8, 2008 edition of The Environmental Notice, the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) advises as follows:
Frequently Asked Questions (First in a series)
    QUESTION: Is an environmental assessment required if an agency determines at the outset of a proposed project that it will prepare an EIS?
    The answer is YES. Section 343-5(a), Hawai‘i Revised Statutes clearly states that "[e]xcept as otherwise provided, an environmental assessment shall be prepared..." for the nine instances articulated therein. The above exception refers to statutory exemptions, and the administrative exemption process set forth in Section 11-200-8, Hawai‘i Administrative Rules (HAR). The assessment process in Section 11-200-9, HAR clearly requires the preparation of an environmental assessment when an agency determines that a proposed action may have significant impact, requiring the preparation of an environmental impact statement. The notice of determination known as an EISPN (analogous to the FONSI) is simply a conclusion premised on the environmental assessment that supports it.
However, the purpose of an environmental assessment (EA) is defined as "a written evaluation to determine whether an action may have a significant environmental effect."  HAR Section 11-200-2. If an accepting agency finds a "significant effect" based on its review of an EA, the applicant must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). HAR Section 11-200-11.2(1).

Therefore, if the purpose of an EA is to determine whether an EIS is required, why prepare an EA if an applicant is willing to conceded that a proposed action will have a significant effect? In such a case, preparing an EA is costly, redundant, and time consuming. Nothing is lost by moving directly to preparation of an EIS; for example, ample public participation is required and content requirements and the depth of analysis do not suffer.

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