International Environment:

Improved Procedures Needed for Environmental Assessments of U.S. Actions Abroad

RCED-94-55: Published: Feb 11, 1994. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal agencies' use of environmental impact assessments to assess the environmental consequences of their overseas activities, focusing on: (1) the requirements for environmental impact assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Executive Order 12114; (2) federal agencies' implementation of Executive Order 12114; and (3) the advantages and disadvantages of applying NEPA procedures to, or strengthening environmental impact assessments procedures for, federal agencies' actions outside U.S. jurisdiction.

GAO found that: (1) Executive Order 12114 requirements for environmental impact assessments are more ambiguous and limited than NEPA requirements, particularly concerning the scope of federal actions and required analyses and participation; (2) the order does not fully describe the types of documents or analyses to be used in the assessment process or call for external review of the assessment process; (3) 21 federal agencies have established environmental assessment procedures and many have applied their procedures to projects abroad, but the order's ambiguities and the agencies' differing interpretations of the order's applicability to their projects have resulted in inconsistent application; (4) questions about NEPA applicability to trade agreements have arisen because of ambiguities in NEPA; (5) difficulties in applying NEPA procedures or strengthening environmental impact assessment procedures abroad include infringement of host countries' sovereignty, increases in the number of lawsuits and costs, and encroachment upon the President's flexibility in conducting foreign affairs; and (6) strengthening environmental impact assessment procedures abroad would be consistent with U.S. initiatives to strengthen foreign assistance agencies' and multilateral development banks' environmental impact assessment procedures.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: The completion of Presidential Review Directive 23 on environmental impact assessment procedures abroad will give Congress an opportunity to consider whether these procedures should be strengthened. Should Congress wish to strengthen these procedures, it should consider requiring the Council on Environmental Quality, or a successor agency if the Council is abolished, to write separate regulations under NEPA for major federal actions abroad that would explicitly require the consideration of alternatives, some degree of public participation, and interagency review and oversight by the Council or a successor agency.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Review of environmental impact assessment procedures abroad under Presidential Review Directive 23 were suspended when a consensus could not be reached. The review did not result in any changes to Executive Order 12114. Resources are not programmed for additional work, however, some implementation of recommendations might be achieved under NAFTA.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should clarify which actions abroad require environmental assessments under Executive Order 12114. In particular, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should clarify if, and under what circumstances, participation with another country exempts actions from assessment.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Review of environmental impact assessment procedures abroad under Presidential Review Directive 23 were suspended when a consensus could not be reached. The review did not result in any changes to Executive Order 12114. Resources are not programmed for additional work, however, some implementation of recommendations might be achieved under NAFTA.

    Recommendation: The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should clarify how comprehensive the assessments must be, including whether and how agencies must consider alternatives, seek external review, and include public participation.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Review of environmental impact assessment procedures abroad under Presidential Review Directive 23 were suspended when a consensus could not be reached. The review did not result in any changes to Executive Order 12114. Resources are not programmed for additional work, however, some implementation of recommendations might be achieved under NAFTA.

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