NPS Director's Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making
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Congaree Swamp National Monument, SC4.5 Environmental Impact Statements — EIS Format

Unless there is a “compelling reason to do otherwise” (CEQ 1502.10), CEQ requires that you follow its format (laid out in this section) for all EISs. Variations from the CEQ format described in this section must first be approved by the Environmental Quality Division (EQD) and the Department's OEPC.

Further Links:

Also see Section 2 of this Handbook.

A. Cover sheet (1502.10)

You must make sure the cover sheet does not exceed 1 page. It must include the following:

  1. a list of responsible agencies including the lead agency and any cooperating agencies.
  2. the title and location of the proposed action that is the subject of the statement.
  3. the name, address, and telephone number of an NPS contact person.
  4. designation of the statement as a draft, final, or supplement.
  5. a one-paragraph abstract of the statement that identifies significant impacts and alternatives to the proposed action/proposal.
  6. the date by which comments must be received.

B. Summary (1502.12)

Each EIS must contain a summary that adequately and accurately summarizes the statement. You must stress the major conclusions, the areas of controversy (including issues raised by agencies and the public), and the issues to be resolved (including the choice among alternatives) in the summary. Normally, you should not allow the summary to exceed 15 pages.

C. Table of contents (1502.10)

You should make sure the table of contents is sufficiently detailed to allow the reader to quickly locate major subject matter in the EIS, particularly specific impact topics and alternatives analyzed in the document.

D. Purpose and need for action (1502.13, DM, 4.9)

“Purpose and need for action” is usually the title of chapter one of an EIS, although “introduction” may be more appropriate. In this chapter, you must specify the underlying purpose and need to which your park is responding in its proposal (see section 2.2), and you should describe the issues identified by the IDT (see section 2.5). This chapter may introduce a number of factors, including economic or technical considerations, or service or departmental statutory, or legislative mandates. Take care to ensure that this is an objective presentation and not a justification of the proposal.

In the section of this chapter on issues (1500.4 (C), 1502.2 (b)), you should discuss important environmental issues and also dismiss unimportant issues. Important issues may be raised by the public, other agencies, or the IDT. You should include a corresponding impact section for all issues that the IDT retained for full analysis.

If the team found that some issues were not relevant to the scope of the document and decided to drop them from further analysis, this should be stated in the document. You may wish to do this in a paragraph or two at the end of the discussion of issues. You should also include a short statement on the reason the issues were dropped. Supporting documentation on why an issue was analyzed or not analyzed must be included in the administrative record.

E. Alternatives (1502.14)

Chapter 2 of an EIS describes the proposal (it can be general or specific as defined in section 2.1 of this handbook) and alternatives. It also includes a discussion of the range of reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures and a summary of impacts of each alternative. You must describe and evaluate the no action alternative, and all reasonable alternatives retained for analysis in comparative detail.

  1. Introduction — Alternatives are different ways of meeting park goals or objectives. They are considered the most important section of an EIS. Because alternatives fulfill park objectives to a large degree, they are directly related to the purpose and need. Because they also reduce impacts to important resources, they also are tied to issues. In an EIS or an EA, the no action alternative should be described first because all other alternatives are then compared against changes in the environment from conditions described under the no action alternative projected into the future.

  2. Range of Alternatives (see section 2.7 (A) for more information) — An EIS should include a discussion at the beginning of the alternatives chapter that describes how the IDT arrived at the final range of reasonable alternatives. This discussion should include factors such as agency or environmental constraints; references to policy in planning documents, legislation, or elsewhere; site characteristics; and factors such as sensitive environmental resources that narrowed the range of possibilities. Making reference to purpose (i.e., goals and objectives) and need may be appropriate.

  3. Reasonable Alternatives — CEQ defines reasonable alternatives as those that are technically and economically feasible and that show evidence of common sense (Q2). They also meet project objectives, resolve need, and alleviate potentially significant impacts to important resources. An alternative is not automatically rendered unreasonable if it requires the amending of a park plan or policy; causes a potential conflict with local, state, or federal law; or lies outside the scope of what Congress has approved or funded or outside the legal jurisdiction of the NPS.

    Another point to consider when identifying reasonable alternatives is how they meet the policies set forth in section 101 of NEPA (see section 2.7(D) of this handbook).

  4. Proposed Action — CEQ uses the term “proposal” synonymously with proposed action (1508.23). As described in section 2-3 of this handbook, a proposal may be a specific method of accomplishing objectives or fulfilling need, or it may be a general restatement of NPS's purpose in taking action.

  5. No Action (see section 2.7(C) for more information on no action) — The no action alternative must be fully analyzed in all EAs and EISs, even if another law prohibits the adoption of the no action alternative or the park is under legislative or other command to act. The no action alternative is usually a viable alternative, but even when it is not, it sets a baseline for comparing the impacts of existing actions with those proposed.

  6. Alternatives Eliminated from Further Study — Following the description of alternatives retained for analysis, you should describe alternatives considered but eliminated from further study. This should be limited to those alternatives initially thought to be viable or suggested by the public, but later dismissed. Briefly state in this section the reasons they have been eliminated, and fully document supporting reasons in the administrative record. Reasons to eliminate alternatives include:
    (a) technical or economic infeasibility.
    (b) inability to meet project objectives or resolve need.
    (c) duplication with other, less environmentally damaging or less expensive alternatives.
    (d) conflict with an up-to-date and valid park plan, statement of purpose and significance, or other policy (see section 7.3 of this handbook), such that a major change in the plan or policy would be needed to implement.
    (e) too great an environmental impact.

  7. Cost — If a cost-benefit analysis has been developed and is important to the decision-maker or the public in choosing between alternatives, either the entire analysis should be appended to the draft EIS or it should be summarized and incorporated by reference into the body of the EIS (1502.23). It is appropriate to include costs of each alternative in the alternatives chapter.

  8. Preferred Alternative — The preferred alternative is the agency-preferred course of action at the time a draft EIS or a public review EA is released. Unless your decision-maker has no preference, the preferred alternative must be identified in the draft EIS “so that agencies and the public can understand the lead agency's orientation” (1502.14 (e), Q4a). You may identify the preferred alternative in an explanatory cover letter to the draft EIS or in the text of the EIS. All final EISs must identify the preferred alternative. Therefore, if no preferred alternative exists at the time the draft EIS is released, you must identify it in the final EIS. For all externally initiated (i.e., non-NPS) proposals, you must identify the NPS-preferred alternative in the draft (and final) EIS (516 DM, 4.10 (2)). It is important to remember that all alternatives in an EIS must be treated with the same level of detail in the analysis of impacts (1502.14(b), Q5b).

  9. Environmentally Preferred Alternative — You must identify in a draft EIS and EA what the environmentally preferred alternative is so that the public can have the opportunity to comment on it. (See section 2.7 (D).)

  10. Summaries — You should summarize the following in the alternatives chapter:
    (a) the degree to which each alternative meets purpose, need, and objectives.
    (b) the important features of each alternative.
    (c) the impacts of each alternative, including a determination of potential improvement to park resources. (See related link.)
    (d) how each alternative achieves requirements of sections 101 and 102(1) of NEPA, including the environmentally preferred alternative, and any potential conflicts between each alternative and other environmental laws and policies.

Items (c) and (d) are mandatory (1502.14). The summary usually includes a matrix for easy comparison of alternatives. Although a chart is not required, the comparison must “sharply define” differences between alternatives (1502.14).

It is helpful to readers if the discussion of issues dismissed and issues kept for further analysis, and the corresponding impact topics, precede the summary of impacts in the alternatives chapter.

F. Affected Environment

Walrus at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, AK CEQ requires that NEPA documents “succinctly describe the environment of the area(s) to be affected or created by alternatives under consideration (1502.15).” This description forms chapter 3 of an EIS. Although you should present enough information to give the reader a general understanding of the environment affected, the length of this chapter should not normally exceed 20 percent of the total EIS.

Describe only those resources that may experience or cause impact or be affected if the proposal or alternatives are implemented. If specific resources would not be affected (e.g., threatened and endangered species) or impacts would be negligible (impact is at a low level of detection), you should list them in the issues discussion as “issues and impact topics considered but dismissed.” You should keep data and analyses in this section commensurate with the intensity, context, and duration of the impact.

  1. Incorporation by Reference — An EIS is to be analytic rather than encyclopedic. You should either append, summarize, or incorporate by reference background material, highly technical material, and less important descriptive information. NPS can incorporate many different kinds of material by reference, and this should be done when “the effect will be to cut down on bulk without impeding agency and public review of the action” (1502.21). Besides written material of all kinds, you can refer in an EIS (or an EA) to conversations, conference proceedings, taped hearings or workshops, and so forth. If you decide to incorporate by reference, you must provide a summary of the relevant text in the NEPA document, and the resource itself must be “reasonably available for inspection by potentially interested persons within the time allowed for comment” on the draft EIS (or EA).

    Materials that should be incorporated by reference (and available as part of the project file) include other NEPA documents, lists of common plants and animals, historic resource studies, detailed air and water quality data and standards, separate scientific studies, compilations of demographic and socioeconomic data, and published works.

  2. Mandatory Topics — You must consider all of the following in an EIS:
    (a) possible conflicts between the proposed action and land use plans, policies, or controls for the area concerned (including local, state, or Indian tribe) (1502.16, 1506.2(d)), and the extent to which your park will reconcile the conflict.
    (b) energy requirements and conservation potential (1502.16).
    (c) natural or depletable resource requirements and conservation potential (1502.16).
    (d) urban quality, historic and cultural resources, and design of the built environment (1502.16).
    (e) socially or economically disadvantaged populations (see Environmental Justice EO 12898 for more information).
    (f) wetlands and floodplains (100-year, and 500-year when critical actions as defined in the NPS floodplain management guides are involved) (1508.27).
    (g) prime and unique agricultural lands (1508.27).
    (h) endangered or threatened plants and animals and their habitats (including those proposed for listing, or on state lists) (1508.27).
    (i) important scientific, archaeological, and other cultural resources, including historic properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (1508.27).
    (j) ecologically critical areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, or other unique natural resources (1508.27).
    (k) public health and safety (1508.27).
    (l) sacred sites (EO 13007).
    (m) Indian Trust resources (ECM 95-2).

    If these are irrelevant issues in your EIS, include them in the discussion of issues and impact topics dropped from the analysis.

Further Links:

Issues, Impact Topics, and Data

National Park Service Resources:

G. Impacts

Although alternatives are important, they are useless unless you clearly and correctly assess their impacts in an EIS or an EA. The prediction of impacts of each alternative is the basis of chapter 4 of an EIS.

This discussion must be accurate and focused. If it rambles on about non-issues, or if the data are wrong or mislead the reader, it wastes the reader's time and the park's money. The impacts discussion is not just a reiteration of the proposal or actions, but rather a discussion of the impact should the proposal and alternatives be implemented. For instance, instead of “there will be a bridge from A to B,” the discussion will focus on “the impact of building a bridge from A to B” on each resource identified as an issue and impact topic.

Whereas issues describe the impact relationship between actions and resources, impact analysis predicts the magnitude of that relationship. For instance, “building a bridge will disrupt riverbank soils and make the water muddy” is an issue. “Suspended solids in the river will increase from its present 10-15 ppm to 1000 ppm for 2-3 weeks during construction” is the kind of information that belongs in the impact chapter.

CEQ requires that the impact analysis:

  1. be concise, clear, and to the point (1500.2 (b)).
  2. emphasize real environmental issues (1500.2 (b)).
  3. provide reasonable alternatives to the proposed action (or proposal, whether generally or specifically described) that minimize adverse impacts (1500.2 (d)).
  4. be of high quality, using accurate scientific analyses (1500.1 (b)).
  5. be scrutinized by other agencies and the public (1500.1 (b)).
  6. include direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts (1502.16).

You must analyze both beneficial and adverse impacts for the resource in question.

  You should give the public and the decision-maker a true picture of how well you can predict an impact.  
  1. Displaying Impact Information — The role of NPS NEPA documents is to fairly, objectively, and candidly display the projected impacts of each alternative. If you can meaningfully and accurately quantify the magnitude of this impact, this is the best way to present the information. If you have little confidence in an absolute number, you may want to use a range of reasonable impacts; rather than conveying false confidence, documents should give the decision-maker and the public a true picture of how well you can predict an impact. You must support qualitative and quantitative impact analyses with the scientific literature and/or other experts' testimony. Such references should be cited liberally in the impact section. CEQ requires that impacts be quantified as much as possible and described in terms of their context, duration, and intensity (see below).

  2. Context — You should analyze impacts in several contexts, if the severity varies geographically, over time, or in some other way (CEQ (1508.27 (a))). See section 4-2(a) for more information on context.

  3. Incomplete or Unavailable Information — CEQ (1502.22) requires agencies to obtain information if it is “relevant to reasonably foreseeable significant adverse impacts,” if it is “essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives,” and if “the overall costs of obtaining it are not exorbitant.” The costs are measured not only in money, but also in time (to complete a research study or survey, for instance). If such information is unavailable or if the costs of obtaining it are exorbitant, an EIS must include statements to let the public know this and its effect on NPS's ability to predict impacts to the particular resource. Existing credible scientific evidence should then be summarized and the impact predicted based on this evidence. CEQ says that reasonably foreseeable impacts include those that have catastrophic consequences, even if their probability of occurrence is low (1502.22, modified in 1986).

    Although the CEQ case applies only when the information is “essential” and the impacts significant, EISs and EAs should routinely inform the public when data are lacking, models are error-prone, or insufficient research or experience is available for predicting impacts accurately.

  4. Impact Indicators — The measurement of impact must be accurate, scientifically credible, and understandable to a lay readership. This is why it is helpful to include a methodology section preceding the impact analysis for each topic. That section can lay out the criteria or thresholds used to draw a conclusion on the context, intensity, and duration of impact. Defining thresholds and impact indicators requires consultation with resource experts, literature searches in some cases, and best professional judgment. In the case of the suspended solids in the river, an impact topic might be the effect of the muddy water on visitor experience. This impact is more difficult to measure than turbidity itself, but not impossible. One indicator might be the number of visitors passing through the area in the context of the rest of the park — for instance, “Fewer than 2% of the total visitors to the park would be able to see the construction on the river.”

  5. Impact Thresholds — Impacts must be quantified as much as possible and interpreted in terms of their context, duration, and intensity. For instance, in the example in section 4.5 (g), the impact is quantified as “suspended solids in the river would increase from its present 10-15 ppm to 1000 ppm for 2-3 weeks during construction.” This is adequate for intensity and duration. However, the reader needs a context to understand the full extent and relative importance of the impact. This can be provided by comparing the impact to a relevant standard, such as the state's water quality standards for suspended solids. The methodology section would define the threshold as “any increases in suspended solids that violate the state's water quality standard for this parameter would be considered a ‘major’ impact.” The analysis would follow with “the increase in suspended solids from 10-15 ppm to 1000 ppm is well below the state's water quality standard for this river (3000 ppm).” The analyst should also interpret the quantitative information for a lay audience. In this example, the specialist might conclude, “Because the impact would last only 2-3 weeks and be well below the standard, it would be a minor, short-term adverse impact to water quality.”

    Notice that criteria were cited (state standards) in the determination of the intensity (in this case, minor) of the impact. Criteria, or thresholds, help to establish the sideboards for understanding the severity and magnitude of the impact. If the analysis simply stated that the suspended solids would increase from 10-15 ppm to 1000 ppm for 2-3 weeks, the public and the decision-maker would be unable to fully understand the extent of the impact.

    Further Links:

    Environmental Impact Analysis Data Links
    Summary of Regulations and Policies Impact Indicators and Criteria
    NPS Management Policies (Search under “Impairment.”)
    Impact Analysis for a GMP

  6. Mitigation — In an EIS, you must develop and analyze mitigation “even for impacts that by themselves would not be considered significant” (Q19a). All “relevant, reasonable mitigation measures that could improve the project are to be identified,” even if they are outside the jurisdiction of the agency (Q19b). You must also analyze the effectiveness of mitigation measures proposed, and the impacts if the project were to proceed without mitigation. For instance, it should be clear whether mitigation is integral to the project and therefore included as part of the alternative, or dependent on factors such as funding or permission from another agency.

    CEQ (1508.20) defines mitigation measures as:

    (a) avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action.
    (b) minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation.
    (c) rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the affected environment.
    (d) reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action.
    (e) compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments.

    Further Links:

    Lessons Learned: Determining Impact Significance and Mitigation Success

  7. Organizing the Impact Chapter — The impact section can be organized by alternative, with impact topics as subheadings, or by impact topic, with alternatives as subheadings. As a general rule, if impacts to a particular resource for one alternative are the same as another alternative, making reference to that section in the EIS is preferable to repeating the information. You may briefly summarize information in the referenced section to help readers track impacts.

    (a) Methodology section — You should begin the discussion of impacts by describing methods used to predict impact. As indicated above, if the methods used are the best available, but they require many assumptions that may not be correct or that have been criticized by other professionals, these assumptions should be explained in the methodology section.

    This section is also a good place to define or explain how data were interpreted. In other words, you should define terms such as “minor” or “major” for a particular impact topic. If relevant, explain the reasoning behind this interpretation — why, say, 100 ppm is a “major” impact but 50 ppm is a “minor” impact. This is a discussion of thresholds of impact.

    (b) Regulations and policies section — Following the methodology section, you may include a separate section that details relevant laws, regulations, and/or park or other policies for each impact topic. This section may help clarify why a particular impact topic is important to discuss, or help support the reasoning for the impact threshold discussion in the methodology section. This section may be placed in the alternatives or purpose and need chapter if more appropriate.

    (c) Cumulative impact section — CEQ requires the analysis of cumulative impacts to each resource and for each alternative. This discussion should be identified separately from, but follow the same order as the discussion of, direct or indirect impacts. It should precede the conclusions section (see 6 (d) below).

    Cumulative impact information may be less exact than information on direct and indirect impacts of the alternatives, but a good faith effort to accurately and completely assess major sources of impact and their contribution to resources affected by the proposal and alternatives should be part of any EIS or EA. For plans or other larger-scope federal actions, the analysis of cumulative effect may be a major focus of the NEPA document requiring regional resource data by which to analyze impacts.

    (d) Conclusions — At the end of the discussion of impacts of each alternative on each impact topic (e.g., resource), a brief “conclusions” section should summarize all major findings, including whether or not a resource impairment is likely or would occur. It should focus on those impacts that would be major, but include a statement that resources examined would experience less severe impacts as well (if this is true). The conclusions section should not contain information that is not already in the impact section.

    Further Links:

    Example of Impact Topic Analysis Organization (Get the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader 5.0 to read the document.)

  8. Sustainability and Long-term Management — Considerations of long-term impact and the effect of foreclosing future options should pervade any EIS or EA, because these are ideas that Congress put forward as the purpose of both NEPA (section 101 (b)), and the NPS Organic Act. However, for each alternative you must also include a separate section that focuses on the following required discussions:
  “Sustainable development is that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
World Commission on Environment and Development

(a) The relationship between local short-term uses of the environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity (section 102 (c) (iv)) — In other words, are any long-term management possibilities, or the productivity of park resources, being traded for the immediate use of land? Will taking action in this case in combination with other actions have an impact on a particular ecosystem? Is the action being taken something that will affect future generationsis it a sustainable action that can continue over the long term without environmental problems?

(b) Any irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved if the alternative were implemented (section 102(c)(v)) — Irreversible impacts are those effects which cannot be changed over the long-term, or are permanent. An effect to a resource is irreversible if it (the resource) cannot be reclaimed, restored or otherwise returned to its condition prior to disturbance. For example, a proposal to restore a cultural feature (building) involving construction adjacent to habitat for nesting birds, may have irreversible impacts on the birds if they abandon the nests and do not return to nest. An irretrievable commitment of resources are the effects to resources that, once gone, cannot be replaced. In this construction example, if the park chose to avoid potential irreversible impacts to the birds, and deterioration of the building continued, the loss of the building's cultural significance and integrity may not be returned, or retrieved in the future. It is important to not worry about the semantics of these terms and instead be thorough in the disclosure to the public of any long-term, permanent effects to park resources.

(c) Any adverse impacts that could not be avoided if the action were implemented (section 101(c) (ii)) — If the action will result in impacts that cannot be fully mitigated or avoided, you should describe these impacts in this section. You should focus this section on “real” environmental issues, or those that would involve major impacts if action were taken.

  EISs and EAs should routinely inform the public when data are lacking, models are error-prone, or insufficient research or experience is available for predicting impacts accurately.  

H. Consultation and coordination

This section should include a brief history of public involvement, a list of preparers and their expertise, and a list of recipients of the EIS. If it is the final EIS, it must include a response to comments section.

  1. History of Public Involvement — In this section you should briefly:
    (a) summarize important consultations that occurred during the evolution of the proposal, the alternatives, and the EIS.
    (b) describe any public scoping sessions or other public involvement efforts.
    (c) include names of any federal, state, or local agencies; major organizations; or experts consulted.
    (d) identify environmental issues or conflicts discussed during consultation that remain.
    (e) include a brief summary of major issues raised during scoping.
    (f) describe any relevant existing or proposed cooperative agency mechanisms, or consultation undertaken in compliance with other laws or regulations. (Memoranda of agreement, memoranda of understanding, formal agreements, major cooperative agreements, or documentation indicating final compliance with applicable laws or regulations, such as comments from the state historic preservation office, should be appendixes to the EIS or readily available for public inspection.)
    (g) summarize steps taken to identify and involve low-income and minority communities that would be affected by the proposal and alternatives.

  2. List of Preparers — The EIS must include a list of persons primarily responsible for preparing the document or “significant background papers” (1502.17). You should identify people responsible for preparing a particular section and include the qualifications of the preparers — their expertise, experience, and professional disciplines. Normally the list will be no longer than 2 pages.

  3. List of Recipients — You should include a list of all agencies, organizations, and people to whom copies will be sent. The list should be organized alphabetically under “federal agencies,” “state and local agencies,” “Indian tribes,” “organizations,” and “individuals.” If the list of individuals is longer than 3 pages, it may be placed in the project file instead of the EIS, with a notation in the EIS that the complete list is available from the issuing office. In the final EIS, an updated list of recipients is provided as necessary to indicate who will be receiving the final EIS.

  4. Response to Comments — See section 4.6, Final EIS.

Further Links:

Also see Section 4.8 of this Handbook.

I. References

The last section of the EIS is dedicated to references, and it should include a bibliography, a glossary, an index of key words, and appendixes.

  1. Bibliography — You should include a list of all references cited in the EIS, including written material and personal communications.

  2. Glossary — Define in a glossary any technical or other terms not understandable to an average lay reader. Be sure to define them in plain language. If agency or other acronyms are used in the EIS, define them either in the glossary or in a separate list of acronyms.

  3. Index of Key Words — You should include an index that contains (in alphabetical order) enough key words from the EIS to allow the reader to find the information. The entries should relate to the subject matter of the text and should not repeat the general topic headings of the table of contents.

  4. Appendixes (1502.18) — Appendixes are for amplification or support of critical analyses in the EIS. They are not a data bank or library for total reference support. They should contain only major substantiating data, essential relevant descriptions of environmental components, important professional reports, and copies of major legislative and executive documents, agency agreements, or other information necessary for a complete use of the EIS for analytical/decision-making purposes. If the audience reading the EIS is not likely to be interested in the supporting material, consider keeping a copy of it in the file and readily available if requested rather than sending it out as an appendix.

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