Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some common questions about the EHECs PEIS and DOE NEPA Process. Additional questions received through the comment form may be added to this page.
- What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)? Programmatic EIS (PEIS)?
- What is being studied in the EHEC PEIS?
- What alternatives will DOE analyze in this PEIS?
- What impacts will be addressed in the PEIS?
- How and when can I make comments on the project?
- How will I know when the Draft PEIS is available for public review? How long will I have to comment on the Draft PEIS?
- What are some additional NEPA resources?
- What is bioenergy and how and where can I use it?
- Is bioenergy truly renewable?
- How does biofuels production affect food and feed demand and costs?
- How are biofuel crops regulated in the United States?
- Q. What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)? And a Programmatic EIS (PEIS)
A. Federal laws and regulations require the federal government to evaluate the effects of its actions on the environment and to consider alternative courses of action. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321), as amended, specifies when an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared. NEPA requires that an EIS be prepared for major federal actions with the potential for significant impact on the quality of the human environment.
An EIS is a document prepared to describe the effects of proposed activities on the natural and physical environment, including the relationship of people with that environment. An “impact” is a change or consequence that results from a proposed action and can be positive, negative or both. The resulting analysis is a document (an EIS) that describes the potential impacts on the environment as a result of a proposed action and the impacts of alternatives, as well as recommended mitigation measures to reduce potential significant impacts.
A PEIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions such as the setting of national policies or the development of a program. Because DOE proposes to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of engineering these EHEC programs in the southeastern United States, a PEIS is appropriate.
- Q. What is being studied in the EHEC PEIS?
A. The PEIS analyzed the potential environmental impacts of DOE programs to support the development and demonstration of EHECs to include financial assistance for confined field trials. These crops could be the source of significant fuel resources from biological production and, therefore, are considered extremely important to understand their potential impact on the environment. EHECs may support achieving renewable fuel goals under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) (Public Law No. 110-140).
For more information, visit Project Overview.
- Q. What alternatives did DOE analyze in this PEIS?
A. The PEIS analyzed potential environmental impacts of the proposed action, reasonable alternatives, and the No Action Alternative.
Proposed Action. DOE analyzed the potential environmental impacts of EHEC Programs to support the development and demonstration of EHECs, including financial assistance for confined field trials.
Alternatives. DOE evaluated a range of reasonable alternatives based on size of the confined field trials. DOE is considering the following implementation alternatives:
- Development-scale Confined Field Trials. Development-scale field trials are the first step in testing whether an engineered plant will grow under agricultural conditions. These field trials are typically small in size and would range up to 5 acres.
- Pilot-scale Confined Field Trials. Upon successful completion of development-scale field trials, pilot-scale field trials would begin to experiment with the engineered plant in a larger sized area. These field trials would range up to 250 acres.
- Demonstration-scale Confined Field Trials. Upon successful completion of development and pilot-scale field trials, demonstration-scale field trials would with an engineered plant using larger acreage, multiple growers, and multiple locations. Large-scale field trials are established and managed for an extended period of time in a large geographical area, up to 15,000 acres.
No Action Alternative. DOE analyzed the environmental impacts of the No Action alternative. Under the No Action Alternative, DOE would not provide financial assistance for the development and implementation of EHEC programs. Although some private-sector field trials involving EHEC crops may be undertaken under permits issued by APHIS, for purposes of the No Action analysis DOE assumes that development of EHEC crops would occur slowly or in an uncoordinated fashion, and that wide-scale commercial deployment would not occur. The No Action Alternative provided a baseline for considering the potential environmental impacts of the other alternatives.
- Q. What impacts are addressed in the PEIS?
A. DOE analyzed potential direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts across the full spectrum of resource areas, including—but not limited to—the following:
- Biological resources: vegetation, terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, threatened or endangered species, migratory birds, ecologically sensitive habitats, alteration in weediness characteristics (invasiveness), biodiversity, and susceptibility to disease or insects;
- Water resources: soil hydrology, groundwater, surface water, sedimentation, runoff, and erosion;
- Cultural and historic resources;
- Floodplains and wetlands:;
- Socioeconomic resources: food and feed crop supplies and prices, schools, housing, public services, and local revenues;
- Air quality: regional air quality;
- Greenhouse gas emissions and climate change;
- Land use: agriculture, farmland availability, , recreation, timber harvesting, grazing, and soils;
- Environmental justice: disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and low-income populations;
- Terrorism and Accident Analysis;
- Wilderness Areas;
- Wild and Scenic Rivers;
- Visual Resources;
- Human health and safety;
- Terrorism and accidents; and
- Cumulative impacts: for each alternative, DOE will assess potential effects that could result from the incremental impacts of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions, including potential impacts from commercial deployment and use of EHECs.
The level of analysis of each resource area in the PEIS is in accordance with the potential significance of impacts. The above list is not intended to be all inclusive or to imply any predetermination of impacts. DOE evaluated the scoping comments received on the PEIS in determining the full range of potential environmental impacts to analyze.
- Q. How and when can I make comments on the project?
A. NEPA provides for extensive public participation in the preparation of an EIS through comments on the scope of the EIS and on the Draft EIS. Comments could be provided verbally at public meetings and hearings or in writing. DOE considered all comments received during scoping and on the Draft PEIS, even if a comment was submitted anonymously.
- Q. How will I know when the Draft PEIS is available for public review?
A notice of the Final PEIS’s availability will be published in the Federal Register on August 7, 2015 and on this project website. The Notice of Availability and Final PEIS are viewable, printable, and downloadable in electronic form (PDF) on this website at the Document Library page and the DOE NEPA website.
- Q. What are some additional resources?
- Q. What is bioenergy and how and where can I use it?
A. Bioenergy is renewable energy made from any organic material from plants or animals. Sources of bioenergy are referred to as “biomass,” and include agricultural and forestry residues, municipal solid wastes, industrial wastes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops grown for energy purposes. Biomass is an attractive petroleum alternative because it is a renewable resource that is more evenly distributed over the Earth’s surface than finite energy sources, and may be exploited using more environmentally friendly technologies. Today, biomass resources are used to generate electricity and power, and to produce liquid transportation fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is the most widely used liquid transportation fuel, or biofuel. Currently, a majority of ethanol is made from corn, but new technologies are being developed to make ethanol from a wide range of agricultural and forestry resources.
- Q. Is bioenergy truly renewable?
A. Bioenergy is considered truly renewable because its source—biomass—is a replenishable resource. Vegetative matter will continue to grow as long as it is planted. Additionally, biomass energy recycles carbon dioxide (CO2) during the plant photosynthesis process and uses it to make its own food. In comparison to fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal, which take millions of years to be produced, biomass is easy to grow, collect, utilize, and replace quickly without depleting natural resources.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will decrease as biofuels of the future are increasingly made from cellulosic feedstocks and as the associated farming, harvesting, transport, and production processes use progressively cleaner, renewable energy sources.
- Q. How does biofuels production affect food and feed demand and costs?
A. DOE’s efforts on biofuels focus exclusively on developing non-food/feed based cellulosic feedstocks and ethanol production technologies. Corn and soybeans, the major commodity crops, are one many possible sources of biofuels. As researchers develop new, cost-effective methods for converting biomass material to liquid transportation fuels, a significant amount will be made from more abundant cellulosic biomass sources, including crop and forestry residues, energy crops such as switchgrass and sorghum, and sorted municipal wastes.
Crops grown to produce biofuels in the United States can also utilize a variety of agricultural lands. Future cellulosic crops will have the added benefit of being able to grow on marginal soils not suited for traditional agriculture. Less than one percent of farm land globally is currently used to grow biofuels crops.
- Q. How are biofuel crops regulated in the United States?
A. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) work to ensure that crops produced through genetic engineering for commercial use are properly tested and studied to make sure they pose no significant risk to consumers or the environment. The federal government developed a Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (pdf) in 1986 to provide for the regulatory oversight of organisms derived through genetic engineering, or biotechnology.
Products are regulated according to their intended use, with some products being regulated under more than one agency. All government regulatory agencies have a responsibility to ensure that the implementation of regulatory decisions, including approval of field tests and eventual deregulation of approved biotech crops, does not adversely impact human health or the environment.
Crops produced through genetic engineering are formally reviewed to assess the potential for transfer of novel traits to wild relatives. When new traits are genetically engineered into a crop, the new plants are evaluated to ensure that they do not have characteristics of weeds. Where biotech crops are grown in proximity to related plants, the potential for the two plants to exchange traits via pollen must be evaluated before release. Crop plants of all kinds can exchange traits with their close wild relatives (which may be weeds or wildflowers) when they are in proximity. In the case of biotech-derived crops, the EPA and USDA perform risk assessments to evaluate this possibility and minimize potential harmful consequences, if any.