9. Early SEA systems

The information presented in the next three pages comes from Dalal-Clayton and Sadler (2005), Partidario and Clark (2000), Schmidt et al. (2005) and Therivel and Partidario (1996).

The first SEA system was the US National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which required environmental assessment of "major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment":

National Environmental Policy Act Sec. 102 [42 USC § 4332].
The Congress authorizes and directs that... all agencies of the Federal Government shall...

(C) include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible official on:

(i) the environmental impact of the proposed action,

(ii) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented,

(iii) alternatives to the proposed action,

(iv) the relationship between local short-term uses of man's environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and

(v) any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.

Prior to making any detailed statement, the responsible Federal official shall consult with and obtain the comments of any Federal agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved. Copies of such statement and the comments and views of the appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies, which are authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards, shall be made available to the President, the Council on Environmental Quality and to the public as provided by section 552 of title 5, United States Code, and shall accompany the proposal through the existing agency review processes...

Only a small proportion of the roughly 500 EIAs produced in the US each year are 'programmatic environmental impact statements', but these are typically quite detailed and evidence-based, and feel much like project assessments.

Almost twenty years later came the Dutch Environmental Protection (General Provisions) Act 1987.  This led to two forms of SEA:

  1. an EIA-based, detailed form of assessment for plans related to land use, industrial processes, drinking water supply, waste disposal and energy production
  2. an environmental test - 'e-test' - for policy proposals.  This is a rapid, high-level test which asks what the proposal's effects are on:
    • energy consumption and mobility;
    • the consumption and stock of raw materials;
    • waste streams and atmospheric, soil and surface water emissions; and
    • physical space / land use.

Roughly 50 of the former type of SEAs have been prepared in the last 15 years, and roughly 10% of the legislative proposals subject to e-test are found to have environmental effects that require attention.

Just this brief information about the first two SEA systems raises several interesting issues:

  • SEA took a long time to become established: although it started in the US in 1969, it is really a product of the 1990s and 2000s; 
  • SEA's roots are in EIA, but (as was discussed earlier) this can constrain how people think about, and carry out, SEA;
  • A distinction is typically made between SEA of policies (seen as difficult and carried out in only a few countries) and SEA of plans and projects (seen as feasible, and typically lumped together in SEA legislation and guidance); and
  • SEA systems differ in the types of strategic actions they apply to (policies, plans, programmes), whether the strategic actions that require SEA are clearly listed or broadly defined, and what the SEA involves.

June 12, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 4:21 pm


  1. Certainly SEA is still in its infancy in may African countries. What has been more challenging is which model to follow. In Uganda, we are drafting SEA Guidelines and the approach was based on the one of South Africa as it was thought that it provides a framework that indeed addresses the country's needs. However, this is still open for improvement.

    Comment by Waiswa-Ayazika — August 7, 2007 @ 8:05 am

  2. Thanks for a great introduction to the SEA world. In the section 7 it was stated that we are not currently carrying out SEAs - and that previous efforts include elements of SEA without fully including all that is required of a comprehensive SEA. However, in this section it is stated that "SEA took a long time to become established: although it started in the US in 1969, it is really a product of the 1990s and 2000s". Does this mean that the SEA framework is now theoretically developed, though not fully implemented?

    Comment by Svein Sandvik — October 31, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

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