To follow up on Martin’s post I just want to make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to Environmental Impact Studies. This has yet to be done for the deep-bore tunnel, with the draft EIS to be released in February of next year and the final EIS completed in the spring of 2011.
Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as:
The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.
Emphasis mine. Furthermore from the Washington State Department of Ecology;
Q: What is SEPA?
A: SEPA is the abbreviation or acronym for the State Environmental Policy Act, Chapter 43.21C RCW. Enacted in 1971, it provides the framework for agencies to consider the environmental consequences of a proposal before taking action. It also gives agencies the ability to condition or deny a proposal due to identified likely significant adverse impacts. The Act is implemented through the SEPA Rules, Chapter 197-11 WAC.
So when is a SEPA review process needed?
Q: When is SEPA environmental review required?
A: Environmental review is required for any proposal which involves a government “action,” as defined in the SEPA Rules (WAC 197-11-704), and is not categorically exempt (WAC 197-11-800 through 890). Project actions involve an agency decision on a specific project, such as a construction project or timber harvest. Nonproject actions involve decisions on policies, plans, or programs, such as the adoption of a comprehensive plan or development regulations, or a six-year road plan.
More below the jump.
Then what is considered government “action”?
(1) “Actions” include, as further specified below:
(a) New and continuing activities (including projects and programs) entirely or partly financed, assisted, conducted, regulated, licensed, or approved by agencies;
(b) New or revised agency rules, regulations, plans, policies, or procedures; and
(c) Legislative proposals.
(2) Actions fall within one of two categories:
(a) Project actions. A project action involves a decision on a specific project, such as a construction or management activity located in a defined geographic area. Projects include and are limited to agency decisions to:
(i) License, fund, or undertake any activity that will directly modify the environment, whether the activity will be conducted by the agency, an applicant, or under contract.
(ii) Purchase, sell, lease, transfer, or exchange natural resources, including publicly owned land, whether or not the environment is directly modified.
(b) Nonproject actions. Nonproject actions involve decisions on policies, plans, or programs.
(i) The adoption or amendment of legislation, ordinances, rules, or regulations that contain standards controlling use or modification of the environment;
(ii) The adoption or amendment of comprehensive land use plans or zoning ordinances;
(iii) The adoption of any policy, plan, or program that will govern the development of a series of
Basically the deep-bore tunnel.
The International Association for Impact Assessment goes on to describe the basic principles of an EIS as:
- Purposive – the process should inform decision making and result in appropriate levels of environmental protection and community well-being.
- Rigorous – the process should apply “best practicable” science, employing methodologies and techniques appropriate to address the problems being investigated.
- Practical – the process should result in information and outputs which assist with problem solving and are acceptable to and able to be implemented by proponents.
- Relevant – the process should provide sufficient, reliable and usable information for development planning and decision making.
- Cost-Effective – the process should achieve the objectives of EIA within the limits of available information, time, resources and methodology.
- Efficient – the process should impose the minimum cost burdens in terms of time and finance on proponents and participants consistent with meeting accepted requirements and objectives of EIA.
- Focused – the process should concentrate on significant environmental effects and key issues; i.e., the matters that need to be taken into account in making decisions.
- Adaptive – the process should be adjusted to the realities, issues and circumstances of the proposals under review without compromising the integrity of the process,and be iterative, incorporating lessons learned throughout the proposal’s life cycle.
- Participative – the process should provide appropriate opportunities to inform and involve the interested and affected publics, and their inputs and concerns should be addressed explicitly in the documentation and decision making.
- Interdisciplinary – the process should ensure that the appropriate techniques and experts in the relevant bio-physical and socio-economic disciplines are employed, including use of traditional knowledge as relevant.
- Credible – the process should be carried out with professionalism, rigor, fairness, objectivity, impartiality and balance, and be subject to independent checks and verification.
- Integrated – the process should address the interrelationships of social, economic and biophysical aspects.
- Transparent – the process should have clear, easily understood requirements for EIA content; ensure public access to information; identify the factors that are to be taken into account in decision making; and acknowledge limitations and difficulties.
- Systematic – the process should result in full consideration of all relevant information on the affected environment, of proposed alternatives and their impacts, and of the measures necessary to monitor and investigate residual effects.
So, not only is WSDOT failing to meet SEPA requirements (in my estimate at least, but I’m not a lawyer), but the process related to the deep-bore tunnel is exemplifying why the principles of environmental impact studies are so critical for making sound policy choices.
Let me be completely clear. I have abstained from this debate because I have changed my opinions on the tunnel more than once. What prompted me to write about the tunnel over the last few days is my concern that informed policy making, based on data and studies, is getting utterly trampled by politics. Some are pushing this lawsuit as a way to delay the viaduct, and I don’t agree with that. To me the lawsuit is about ensuring the highest level of integrity and transparency while ensuring that decisions are made upon facts. I believe that once a study is complete a decision should and must be made based on the study, regardless of the outcome.
UPDATE: As of September 15th WSDOT released a Request for Qualifications. Also on September 17th WSDOT requested that the State Treasure sell $500 million dollars in bonds, part of which will fund among other projects;
A bored tunnel will be constructed under downtown Seattle between approximately Dearborn St. and Harrison St. to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct along the central waterfront. The new bored tunnel moves SR 99 to a new below ground alignment under downtown Seattle and will bypass the existing Battery Street Tunnel.
These bonds have been sold and I assume could be considered a government “action”.