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Socioeconomic Impacts

Highland goes above and beyond the 'Data Dump' often seen in Socioeconomic Impact Analysis.  By focusing on the interpretation of interdisciplinary data into terms people can understand, Highland provides clients with a true understanding of the socioeconomic impacts of proposed actions.

To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and similar state environmental requirements, Highland economists regularly analyze the effects of proposed policies, management actions, and projects on socioeconomic, environmental justice, land use, and recreation resources.  Barbara leads our studies in this area, and throughout her career has completed more than twenty socioeconomic analyses for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS's) or Environmental Assessments (EA's), as required by NEPA.


Highland Economics' socioeconomic impact analyses are different.


Affected environment socioeconomic sections prepared for NEPA documents are often packed with tables and statistics on population, jobs, and income.  The 'data dumps' in these sections often don't provide the reader with the required analysis to bring a true understanding of the local area.  Our approach is to provide the data, but to focus on the interpretation and connection of the data points to convert data to clear information for the reader.


Our approach to socioeconomic impact analysis ("consequences section") is also different. We assess not only the standard impacts on jobs, income, population, housing, and tax revenues.  We take a comprehensive approach that draws on ecosystem services methods to provide a truly interdisciplinary assessment of project impacts.  We believe socioeconomics has a key integration role in NEPA; we translate biological, physical, and chemical impacts described in other resource sections (e.g., air resources, water resources, biological resources, transportation, etc) into socioeconomic terms that people can understand.  


For example, a water resources section of an EIS may identify a change in groundwater levels due to water use by a project.  What does this mean to people in the area?  We assess how such a change would affect groundwater pumping costs and future development options in the area.  In this ecosystem service approach, we provide a comprehensive and integrated analysis of the economic, social, and environmental consequences of Proposed Actions.  This provides the public and decision-makers with more meaningful information, and avoids the dichotomy of many traditional NEPA documents that identify positive economic effects and adverse environmental effects.


Our economists have experience completing socioeconomic studies under NEPA and similar state regulations in the following sectors:


  • Wind and Solar Energy

  • Oil and Gas Development

  • Linear Facilities (pipelines, railroads, transmission lines, etc)

  • Mining

  • Residential Development

  • Irrigated Agriculture

  • Water Development

  • Industrial Facilities

  • Endangered Species and Habitat Management

Example NEPA Socioeconomic Impact Projects

Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) Project SEIS, North Dakota and Manitoba Province, Canada


For the Bureau of Reclamation, Highland Economics (as a subcontractor) provided socieconomic support in preparing the Supplemental EIS of a water supply project for rural communities in northwest North Dakota. The water supply system would transfer water from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin.  In the Supplemental EIS and an accompanying technical report, we evaluated the socioeconomic impacts of aquatic invasive species on commercial fisheries, tourism and recreation, aboriginal subsistence use, and water supply in Canada.  We also addressed potential effects on the Missouri River Basin, including to navigation, hydropower, recreation, and water supply, of withdrawals for the NAWS project.

Haile Gold Mine EIS, South Carolina


For the US Army Corps of Engineers, Highland Economics (as a subcontractor) provided socioeconoimc and environmental justice support for the EIS on the Haile Gold mine.  Our work included assessing the impacts of the project on housing, population, public services, recreation and tourism, ecosystem services such as water provisioning, and local jobs, income, and tax revenues.  We constructed a detailed regional economic impact model (using IMPLAN software) to estimate how construction and operation activities at the mine would directly and indirectly support jobs and income in the regional economy.  We closely analyzed all factors that would determine the level of local economic impact, including commuting patterns (i.e., the proportion of labor htat would be provided from outside the region), the local pool of skilled available workers, the proportion of mining construction and operation jobs that are specialized and highly skilled, experiences from other regions, and the availability of local housing.


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