There are several different types of environmental investigations for project sites that are dependent on the particular type of project (i.e. new development, real estate transactions, etc.). It can often be confusing for the client to understand the difference between these various investigations, whose names are very similar, and to know which type of study must be done for their property. Here we try to help clarify the similarities and differences between the studies, and point out the cases in which each are required.
Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
In the United States, a Phase I environmental site assessment is a report prepared for a real estate holding that identifies potential or existing environmental contamination liabilities. The analysis, often called an ESA, typically addresses both the underlying land as well as physical improvements to the property. The initial guidance for performing Phase I's came from the USEPA as part of the indemnification rules of cleanup responsibility. In the early 1990's the ASTM initiated a committee which eventually produced ASTM Standard E1527, which gave consultants and users a methodology for a national standard of environmental due diligence.
A variety of actions can cause a Phase I study to be performed for a commercial property, the most common being:
- Purchase of real property by a person or entity not previously on title.
- Contemplation by a new lender to provide a loan on the subject real estate.
- Partnership buyout or principal redistribution of ownership.
- Existing property owner's desire to understand toxic history of the property.
- Divestiture of properties
Phase I ESA's include items such as historical research of the property use, interviews with the property owner and surrounding property owners, review of records, review of aerial photographs, and on-site observations by an experienced person. Should the Phase I result in identifying existing contamination, it may lead to a Phase II assessment, which involves actual sampling and analysis of soil and/or groundwater.
For more information on the Phase I process, contact Doug Canavello. Doug has over 20 years of experience performing Phase I assessments and is a member of ASTM E50 committee that wrote and updates the ASTM Phase I Standard.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessments
For large scale new developments or any proposed project or new policy that has the potential to impact the environment, a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) investigation may be mandated.
The official purpose of NEPA is to make sure that agencies fully consider the environmental costs and benefits of their proposed actions before they are undertaken, thereby conserving and protecting natural resources for the future.
The analysis that is performed under the NEPA guidelines is typically made available to the public in one of three types of NEPA documents, depending on the degree of impact to the environment.
- If it is clear that the proposal will have no measurable environmental impact, it can be excluded and a 1-2 page notice can be drafted.
- If the proposal would have a measurable impact on the environment, or if its impacts are unclear, then an Environmental Assessment (EA) should be prepared.
- If the proposal has the potential for significant environmental impacts, then an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required.
Regardless of which of the above three approaches are implemented, a NEPA investigation consists of two main purposes: 1) That all agencies make a comprehensive, accurate, and analytic study of the potential impacts of the project, and 2) That any interested or affected member of the public will be made involved by the acting agencies.
Pyramid most commonly is involved in the EA preparation with respect to NEPA investigations. These are situations where environmental impacts are measurable or unclear, and they may or may not have significant impacts that would necessitate an EIS. Additionally, an EA's purpose is to aid in an agency's compliance with NEPA when an EIS may not be necessary.
A typical EA should include the following:
- Purpose and Need (Introduction)
- Alternatives (no action, range of alternatives, environmentally preferable alternative)
- Affected environment
- Regulations and policies
- Cumulative impacts
- Sustainability and long-term management
- Consultation and coordination
Click HERE to view a copy of a NEPA guidance document prepared by the National Parks Service that explains the process in more detail than is possible in our newsletter.
Pyramid's experienced staff of professionals can help you navigate the sometimes confusing regulations, requirements, and data analysis that are associated with various types of environmental investigations. Call us today for answers to your environmental assessment problems!!