Adding people to the NEPA process

According to the World Health Organization, a Health Impact Assessment is: "a practical approach used to judge the potential health effects of a policy, programme or project on a population, particularly on vulnerable or disadvantaged groups. Recommendations are produced for decision-makers and stakeholders, with the aim of maximising the proposal's positive health effects and minimising its negative health effects."

While the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) is relatively new in the United States, one was recently completed for proposed oil and gas development in Alaska's North Slope region as part of the Bureau of Land Management's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) there.  This makes perfect sense.  The EIS process is governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA is all about developing the public information needed to maximize the benefits and minimize the impacts of a project, and NEPA's regulations explicitly include public health as one of the effects which must be considered in an Environmental Impact Statement.

That is why six local governments in western Colorado recently wrote to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and asked the agency to conduct a Health Impact Assessment as part of the revision of the resource management plan for the Glenwood Springs and Kremmling areas.  These local governments are concerned about the potential impacts on their residents' health from expanded oil and gas development in their region.  In addition, community members in Wyoming, including doctors and nurses, have made similar requests to the BLM.  And health experts at the University of Colorado School of Public Health have said that an HIA is a practical tool to evaluate future impacts, alternatives and appropriate strategies to promote and protect human health.

Big companies use the HIA process in overseas oil and gas development projects and, as I mentioned earlier, it's been done in Alaska.  NRDC supports the requests of communities in Colorado and Wyoming to make certain that appropriate consideration of people, and their health, is included in NEPA analyses for oil and gas development.