Assessing cumulative impacts within state environmental review frameworks in the United States

Zhao Ma, Dennis R. Becker, Michael A. Kilgore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Cumulative impact assessment (CIA) is the process of systematically assessing a proposed action's cumulative environmental effects in the context of past, present, and future actions, regardless of who undertakes such actions. Previous studies have examined CIA efforts at the federal level but little is known about how states assess the cumulative impacts of nonfederal projects. By examining state environmental review statutes, administrative rules, agency-prepared materials, and a national survey of the administrators of state environmental review programs, this study identifies the legal and administrative frameworks for CIA. It examines current CIA practice, discusses the relationship between CIA policy and its implementation, and explores the opportunities for improvement. The results of the study show that twenty-nine state environmental review programs across twenty-six states required the assessment of cumulative environmental impacts. More than half of these programs have adopted specific procedures for implementing their policies. Some programs assessed cumulative impacts using a standard review document, and others have created their own documentations incorporated into applications for state permits or funding. The majority of programs have adopted various scales, baselines, significance criteria, and coordination practices in their CIA processes. Mixed methods were generally used for data collection and analysis; qualitative methods were more prevalent than quantitative methods. The results also suggest that a program with comprehensive and consistent environmental review policies and procedures does not always imply extensive CIA requirements and practices. Finally, this study discusses the potential for improving existing CIA processes and promoting CIA efforts in states without established environmental review programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-398
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Impact Assessment Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Cumulative effect
  • Cumulative impact analysis
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • State environmental policy act

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