Tourism—including ecotourism—is a vital part of the economy for many Central and South American countries. With help from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), partners of the Central America and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) are examining the environmental impacts of tourist activities. Recently, USAID sponsored an EPA-led workshop in Honduras focused on building capacity among government workers to interpret and analyze environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for proposed tourism-related projects. Battelle’s Lynn McLeod, a Certified Environmental Professional in Documentation, was one of three trainers who presented this workshop in April to 25 government employees from Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
A host of U.S. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), including CAFTA-DR, U.S.-Chile FTA, U.S.-Jordan FTA and U.S.-Morocco FTA, require U.S. trading partners to have environmental governance programs in place that ensure that they are meeting minimum environmental standards. As part of the capacity building program, EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, in collaboration with other EPA offices, is providing training to government officials in developing nations. Training at the Honduras workshop is one example of the types of capacity-building activities Battelle has been asked to conduct under our new EPA Environmental Governance Capacity Building Programcooperative agreement.
This workshop was aimed at training government officials who will be responsible for evaluating EIAs for tourism projects and making recommendations on whether they should be approved. The two-day workshop was designed to help evaluators analyze EIAs for completeness, identify areas of weakness or questions requiring further study, and make decisions that balance environmental, economic, public health and aesthetic considerations. Resorts, hotels, cruise lines, ports, transportation hubs and other tourism-related projects can have numerous and complex impacts on their surrounding environment. Evaluators must consider how the project will impact soil and sediment pollution, water quality, erosion, marine and land ecosystems, air and noise pollution and other factors. In areas with a strong focus on ecotourism, evaluators must also consider the cumulative impacts of existing tourism and other projects.
This workshop drew upon Lynn’s years of experience helping Battelle and our clients comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). She has developed environmental impact statements under NEPA for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and many other federal agencies and commercial clients.
NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental and socioeconomic effects of proposed actions before making decisions. The Technical Review Guidelines for EIAs for Tourism, prepared by EPA in 2011, provides specific guidance for making decisions on permit applications, adopting land management actions and planning construction activities. The workshop leveraged this guidance document to develop a training program specifically focused on the CAFTA-DR partners. EPA previously delivered training workshops on the environmental impacts of the mining and energy sectors to personnel from many of these same countries.
Lynn and her colleagues at Battelle will continue to work with EPA to develop training programs for U.S. trading partners over the course of the 5-year cooperative agreement. Battelle has extensive experience in international capacity building, including recent work in El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Malaysia as well as other international development projects conducted in partnership with other U.S. federal agencies.