Defining and Assessing Adverse Environmental Impact Symposium, 2001View this Special Issue
Defining “Adverse Environmental Impact” and Making § 316(b) Decisions: A Fisheries Management Approach
The electric utility industry has developed an approach for decisionmaking that includes a definition of Adverse Environmental Impact (AEI) and an implementation process. The definition of AEI is based on lessons from fishery management science and analysis of the statutory term “adverse environmental impact” and is consistent with current natural resource management policy. The industry has proposed a definition focusing on “unacceptable risk to the population’s ability to sustain itself, to support reasonably anticipated commercial or recreational harvests, or to perform its normal ecological function.” This definition focuses not on counting individual fish or eggs cropped by the various uses of a water body, but on preserving populations of aquatic organisms and their functions in the aquatic community. The definition recognizes that assessment of AEI should be site-specific and requires both a biological decision and a balancing of diverse societal values. The industry believes that the definition of AEI should be implemented in a process that will maximize the overall societal benefit of the § 316(b) decision by considering the facility’s physical location, design, and operation, as well as the local biology. The approach considers effects on affected fish and shellfish populations and the benefits of any necessary best technology available (BTA) alternatives. This is accomplished through consideration of population impacts, which conversely allows consideration of the benefits of any necessary BTA modifications. This in turn allows selection of BTAs that will protect potentially affected populations in a cost-effective manner. The process also employs risk assessment with stakeholder participation, in accordance with EPA’s Guidelines for Ecological Risk Assessment. The information and tools are now available to make informed decisions about site-specific impacts that will ensure protection of aquatic ecosystems and best serve the public interest.