FORTY MOST ASKED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Environmental Assessments (EA)


36a. How long and detailed must an environmental assessment (EA) be?

Answer:

The environmental assessment is a concise public document which has three defined functions.

  • (1) It briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an EIS;
  • (2) it aids an agency's compliance with NEPA when no EIS is necessary, i.e., it helps to identify better
    alternatives and mitigation measures; and
  • (3) it facilitates preparation of an EIS when one is necessary. Section 1508.9(a).

    Since the EA is a concise document, it should not contain long descriptions or detailed data which the agency may have gathered. Rather, it should contain a brief discussion of the need for the proposal, alternatives to the proposal, the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, and a list of agencies and persons consulted. Section 1508.9(b).

    While the regulations do not contain page limits for EA's, the Council has generally advised agencies to keep the length of EAs to not more than approximately 10-15 pages. Some agencies expressly provide page guidelines (e.g., 10-15 pages in the case of the Army Corps). To avoid undue length, the EA may incorporate by reference background data to support its concise discussion of the proposal and relevant issues.

  • 36b. Under what circumstances is a lengthy EA appropriate?

    Answer:

    Agencies should avoid preparing lengthy EAs except in unusual cases, where a proposal is so complex that a concise document cannot meet the goals of Section 1508.9 and where it is extremely difficult to determine whether the proposal could have significant environmental effects. In most cases, however, a lengthy EA indicates that an EIS is needed.

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