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Environmental impact statements (EISs) examine the effect of the proposed action – typically a construction project, but sometimes a government policy or other activity – on the environment. However, increasing attention is now devoted to looking in the other direction – at how changes in the environment might affect a project.

Reverse environmental impact analysis, as I will call it, has been with us for some time. For example, if a building is planned downwind of a smokestack or downstream of a contaminated groundwater plume, this effect of the outside world has long been considered. However, the emergence of scientific understanding of climate change is shining a light on the issue. For example, if during the expected lifetime of a proposed building, its site may be endangered by sea level rise, should this be disclosed in the EIS, so that governmental decision-makers can consider this prospect before granting approvals?

This article explores the protocols that various government agencies have issued for reverse environmental impact analysis. It then discusses one pending case on the issue. It reports on a survey that investigated whether and how reverse environmental impact analysis is being performed in recent EISs, and it summarizes the analysis in a number of EISs.


Environmental Law | Law


Sabin Center for Climate Change Law