EIS stands for Environmental Impact Statement. An EIS is a report mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), to assess the potential impact of actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” This requirement under NEPA does not prohibit harm to the environment, but rather requires advanced identification and disclosure of harm. Examples include building, clean-up, and infrastructure projects.

Not all major federal projects that could affect the environment require an EIS. The EIS requirement is one of three possible environmental review categories under NEPA. Some projects require no review and earn a “categorical exclusion determination” (CATEX).

Smaller projects might require an environmental assessment (EA), a simpler investigation of environmental impact. An evaluation of an EA could prompt a larger investigation and result in a full EIS, or result in a “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI), and proceed without further review. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepared an EA prior to building Willow Creek Cabins in Allegheny National Forest in 2005, for example, it resulted in a FONSI.

Environmental impact statements often address local areas and projects that are tangible and potentially well-known, making them widely available and accessible. They are tools for informing the public about the development and engineering of the built environment, as well as windows into the civic planning that shapes communities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Environmental Impact Database, which includes records of all statements filed since 1987, and PDF copies of all statements filed since 2012. The database is free and fully searchable.

Source: American Bar Association