The environmental impact statement: A rhetorical analysis

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2013-08

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Abstract

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a technical communication document that has not received a lot of academic attention in the last few years. To fill this information gap, I analyze the EIS two different ways—by describing its textual features and by studying how three different government agencies applied the EIS process for projects that impacted Native Americans. I examined each EIS using four rhetorical analysis research methods—rhetorical situation, genre theory, dramatic criticism, and contextual analysis. The EIS is a complex document that is not easy to describe or classify. I suggest that the EIS is a mandated genre with built-in flexibility that resembles the public policy report. Two of three analyzed EISs were generally similar to the regulatory requirements for the EIS, while the third was not similar. This third EIS was not rhetorically effective, in part, because the government agency did not consider the needs of its audience. In all three examples, the authors were able to control the text using techniques which constrained the audience. The rhetorical situation, created by a local or a global exigency, prompted each agency to implement the EIS process. The local culture had a significant impact on the development and revision of the various EIS documents. All three agencies concluded that the economic and social aspects of the projects outweighed the natural environment. The EISs authors gave more weight to short-term benefits over long-term costs, and each decision created winners and losers. In general, the agencies treated organized Native American groups as equal partners in the environmental assessment process. The Native American groups and the agencies demonstrated different attitudes towards land use. I recommend that agencies improve the visual design of EISs, be aware of the influences of culture, understand the various attitudes toward land use and nature, better analyze the long-term impacts of a project, and recognize that the EIS process is rhetorical because it offers reasoning about the future.

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Keywords

Environmental impact statement (EIS), Rhetorical analysis, Native Americans

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