What are EIRs, and why should we care?
Environmental Impact Reports (or EIRs) are reports to inform the public and public agency decision-makers of significant environmental effects of proposed projects, identify possible ways to minimize those effects, and describe reasonable alternatives to those projects. The Los Angeles Public Library collection of EIRs contains reports with information about rare or endangered plants and animals, noise and air pollution, and possible disruptions of human culture brought about by specific projects. These documents give us valuable insights into the planning process and decision making strategies that shape our constantly evolving city as well as historical evidence that explains, in part, the shape of our city today.
The Los Angeles Public Library’s EIR collection is focused primarily on projects that take place in the City of Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and the surrounding area. Furthermore, there are reports from places throughout California and the United States. Today the library has thousands of EIRs in its collection, ranging from Environmental Impact Reports from this month to documents going back to the early 1970s.
Where do EIRs come from? Why are they at the Library?
In 1969 Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act establishing the nation’s environmental policies. In response to NEPA, California created CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act and Governor Reagan signed it in 1970. CEQA requires that state and local agencies disclose and evaluate the significant environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts.
In 1992 the Science, Technology & Patents Department of the Los Angeles Public Library entered into an agreement with the City of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department to make environmental documents available during their review period and retain them afterwards for storage and retrieval. Some are cataloged and can be found in the stacks of the Science department. However many more are uncatalogued and can be found using the EIR Database.
If you find a record of the EIR you are looking for it should contain information about where the physical copy of the EIR is shelved in the field “Report Location”. Many EIRs are held in the closed stacks of the Science, Technology & Patents Department in Central Library. But there are some EIRs elsewhere. Branch libraries often have EIRs on display for current projects that affect their neighborhoods. In the Science department there is a shelf across from the reference desk where EIRs of current projects are held for public review.
All items available in the Science Department of the Central Library, regardless of their location, are accessible within a few minutes. Most do not circulate, but there are photocopiers available. Patrons may also bring in their own scanners if they wish to make a large number of copies. If the Central Library is not feasible for you to get to, arrangements can be made to send EIRs to a branch library within LAPL where you can access the items at that location.
EIR or EIS, what does it all mean?
Environmental Reports are broken down in various ways. A report for a single project may come out in multiple documents over the space of months or years. Here’s a breakdown of what some of the most common types of reports mean.
EIR – Environmental Impact Report: A report prepared if there is substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment as set up in CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.
EIS – Environmental Impact Statement: A report similar to an EIR except that it’s creation is governed by national standards (NEQA: the National Environmental Quality Act) rather than state standards
NOP – Notice of Preparation: a document stating that an EIR will be prepared for a particular project. It is the first step in the EIR process. It usually includes a description of the project, a map, and probable environmental affects.
IS – Initial Study: a preliminary analysis conducted by the lead agency to determine if a project may have a significant effect on the environment. The initial study also aids in determining what type of environmental document to prepare.
ND – Negative Declaration: a document that states upon completion of an initial study, that there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
MND – Mitigated Negative Declaration: a type of Negative Declaration that states that there will be no significant effect on the environment if the potential effects of the project can be reduced to a level of insignificance through project revisions.
The Internet and EIRs
More and more EIRs are available online as is a wealth of information on EIRs. Here are some places you can look for more information.
California Environmental Quality Act
Information from the state of California on the California Environmental Quality Act, including filing information, a FAQ, and the PDF of Public Resources Code 21000-21177 (CEQA) and the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Division 6, Chapter 3 Sections 15000-15387 (CEQA Guidelines)
National Environmental Policy Act homepage, includes A Citizen’s Guide to NEPA
California Environmental Resources Evaluation System
California Environmental Resources Evaluation System, CERES links to a wealth of information about California’s environment.
What steps are involved in filing an Environmental Impact Report with CEQA ? This flow chart (Last updated in 2005) traces the process.
The California Energy Commission makes documents related to the environmental impact of their projects online. You can pick a project and look at the documents related to it.