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What is an Environmental Impact Assessment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
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An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a study conducted for the purpose of determining the impact of a proposed activity or project on the environment. Many nations require environmental impact assessments from people involved in construction projects and similar activities, and the requirements are especially detailed in areas with fragile natural environments which could be damaged by projects which did not take the environment into account.

When an environmental impact assessment study is conducted, researchers consider the proposed activity, evaluate the environment where the activity will take place, and think about the positive and negative effects of the activity. For example, if a company planned to restore wetlands adjacent to one of its developments, the environmental impact assessment would probably indicate that the net change to the environment would be positive. Conversely, a company which wanted to build a mall might end up with a negative environmental impact assessment because the researchers could determine that the facility would have a negative impact on the environment.

This process includes concerns about the natural impacts of a project along with the economic and social ones. Something which generates a net positive natural change might not always be beneficial economically and socially, for instance, and conversely, researchers might determine that although a project could be harmful for the environment, it will have economic and social benefits which could outweigh the damage.

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The goal of mandating such assessments is to protect the environment so that everyone can enjoy it and to consider the lives of organisms which rely on the natural environment for survival. The written results of an environmental impact assessment may be known as environmental impact statements or environmental impact reports. Commonly, an EIS or EIR must be included with other documentation when people file for building permits, permission to hold events, and other permits provided by government agencies.

Numerous firms around the world specialize in conducting EIAs and preparing written reports which discuss the results in detail. These reports are open to the public, allowing members of the community to judge for themselves when a proposed project is presented, and they can include recommendations to minimize or mitigate the environmental impact of a project. Conducting an EIA is only one among many options for evaluating a proposed project, and people should be aware that other reports such as a seismic report may be required in addition to an EIA before permission to proceed will be granted.

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