Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shelf Life: Preliminary Findings

Research Questions:
There is no expiration date on accepted EAs and EISs. In some cases an action for which a document has been prepared and accepted is not immediately implemented.
  1. Should there be a shelf life (time limit) for environmental review documents?
  2. What should be the standard for reviewing the adequacy of information contained in an environmental document when a project is postponed or delayed?
Stakeholder Interview Comments
Stakeholders generally agreed that environmental review documents should not be valid indefinitely. A majority of interviewees preferred having a time deadline after which a review is triggered (if project implementation has not begun) rather than a “drop-dead” date after which the document expires. This review would determine if a new or supplemental study is needed. Many were concerned that a shelf life for environmental review documents would be detrimental for projects that take a long time to implement, and might negatively affect opportunities for funding. Some suggested that if a time deadline is to be implemented, the standard for government projects should be different (longer time frame) than for private projects. Another common concern was that, if a shelf life is to become part of the process, it should be possible to do targeted studies that address only the relevant changes.

To address concerns about shelf life, the following actions were most commonly suggested:
  1. A review to determine adequacy of documents should be required after a set number of years. (Most common suggestion was 5-10 years, maybe differing for areas changing more rapidly.) This review should be done on a case-by-case basis, based on a set of criteria and a new or supplemental document should only be required based on this review finding that there have been significant changes in terms of these criteria. Some of the suggested criteria include change in environment, project, traffic, population, land use, economy, public concern, noise and pollution.
  2. Another suggestion was to resubmit the documents for some kind of public review process, which would reveal any new issues or insufficiencies.
  3. Others felt that this issue is already addressed in the existing rules on supplemental EISs, and that these rules should be clarified.
  4. If changes are to be assessed, there is a need for data with which to do this. There should be a database and standardized methodology for data collection. (see: cumulative impacts)
Stakeholder Workshop Results
Session 1: Review of Results
The Stakeholder workshop further clarified the information from the interviews. Workshop attendees strongly favored having a review of the document after a time deadline, and also favored the statement that a new document should only be required if there are significant changes to the project, environment, and/or circumstances. The most common concerns identified by workshop attendees was that this might serve to further delay projects that already take a long time to complete. Assessing documents on a case-by-case basis to determine if changes in criteria warrant a new or supplemental document was the most commonly identified solution.

Session 2: Discussion Group and Report Back
Discussion confirmed the recommended actions that emerged from the interviews and workshop “votes”. The discussion group agreed that documents should have a time deadline for review, and that this review should be case-by case and criteria based. However, it should be taken into consideration that if the rules are too stringent regarding shelf life that it might result in projects not being implemented (including ones in the public interest). New or supplemental documents should only be required if there are significant changes in the project or surrounding circumstances. It also remained undetermined as to what exact number of years would be appropriate for document shelf life. It was suggested that this time deadline might vary depending on the area and its rates of change and growth.

1 comment:

  1. It would be useful to know how other states deal with this issue. Do federal EIS's have a shelf life? How is this dealt with in east vs. west coast states?