What is an EIS?
“EIS” is the acronym for the term environmental impact statement. This is a document prepared to describe the effects of proposed activities on the environment. In the case of an EIS, “environment” is defined as the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a document analyzing the possible impacts of the actions taken. The EIS is the most detailed of these documents and is requires a broad scope of analysis for major actions. The EIS document describes: impacts on the environment as a result of a proposed action; impacts of alternatives; and in some cases, plans to mitigate negative impacts.
What is the relationship between the Programmatic EIS and agricultural biotechnology regulations?
A programmatic EIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions such as the setting of national policies or the development of programs. Because the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) program is considering changes in its existing regulations, a programmatic EIS is appropriate.
The USDA regulates certain GE organisms through APHIS. APHIS administers the Federal Plant Protection Act. This legislation authorizes APHIS to regulate interstate movement, imports to the United States, and release for field testing of organisms and products altered or produced through biotechnology. These organisms cannot be plant pests must not present reason to believe they pose plant pest risks. Finally, APHIS may make a decision to end regulation of certain GE organisms if it is demonstrated to pose no plant pest risk or significant environmental impact.
The analysis in the programmatic EIS will in large part form the basis of new regulations which are to be proposed. Following a public scoping and comment period, environmental impacts are analyzed and a draft programmatic EIS is published. Next, a public comment period on the draft programmatic EIS is held after which a final programmatic EIS may or may not be published.
The proposed regulations will take account of APHIS’ deliberations recorded in the draft EIS, as well as the public responses to the EIS. Other federal agencies will review these proposed new regulations; when the reviews and changes are complete, a notice of their availability will be placed in the Federal Register. Following an additional public comment period, the BRS regulations for biotechnology will be finalized and published in the Federal Register.
How will public comments be used in the EIS process?
The primary function of the programmatic EIS is to inform decision-makers about alternatives that may be chosen to accomplish Agency goals. This process also assists the Agency with scoping the issues and providing a mechanism for public comments on the issues. The first goal, to initiate the scoping process, helps APHIS BRS to decide what issues are important and what alternatives should be considered. This process began with BRS and then a Notice of Intent (NOI) was published within the Federal Register identifying relevant issues. Following the NOI, a public comment period encouraged the public to suggest additional issues and to provide additional perspectives about proposed alternatives. The second goal of the EIS is to facilitate comments on the environmental analysis performed by APHIS BRS. Each of the alternatives will be analyzed for possible environmental impacts and the public will have opportunity to provide comments on the APHIS deliberative process. Public comments from individuals, businesses, non-governmental organizations as well as from federal, state and local agencies help inform APHIS BRS about possible impacts of new regulations. All comments during the public review of the draft EIS, along with APHIS’ responses, may be reproduced along with the final BRS regulations or with the final EIS.