Environmental Impact Report Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Environmental Impact Report, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Environmental Impact Report?

n. a study of all the factors which a land development or construction project would have on the environment in the area, including population, traffic, schools, fire protection, endangered species, archeological artifacts and community beauty. Many states require such reports be submitted to local governments before the development or project can be approved, unless the governmental body finds there is no possible impact, which finding is called a “negative declaration.”

History and Meaning of Environmental Impact Report

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) comes from California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The CEQA was passed in 1970, and it initially established the legal framework for environmental impact assessment. It required that all state agencies prepare an EIR for any projects that they funded, developed or approved. Other states followed California's lead, enacting their own environmental impact procedures. Today, EIRs are conducted for any economic development, infrastructure or renewable energy project with potentially significant environmental impact.

An EIR assesses a proposed project’s effects on the environment in the area. This report covers various areas such as traffic, air and water quality, geology and soils, noise impact, visual aesthetics, and endangered species. It provides the public with information about the project's potential impacts, any significant adverse effects, and alternatives to the project.

Examples of Environmental Impact Report

  1. The proposed construction of a new highway near a wildlife preserve triggered a requirement for an EIR.
  2. A company that wanted to construct a high rise building in a busy part of the city was required by the local government to provide an EIR.
  3. The expansion of a solar facility in the Mojave Desert was being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management, which required an EIR as part of the review process.
  4. A company that planned to develop an open-pit mine in a rural county was required to perform an EIR by the county government.

Legal Terms Similar to Environmental Impact Report

  1. Environmental Assessment (EA) - A preliminary evaluation conducted by federal agencies to determine if the proposed action will have a significant impact on the environment.
  2. Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) - A statement that, despite the potential for significant environmental impacts, mitigation measures will reduce those impacts to a level of insignificance or less-than-significant impacts.
  3. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) - A detailed and comprehensive document that describes the environmental effects of a proposed action to federal agencies and the public.