Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a project specific tool used to identify and assess the actual and potential environmental implications of a project before the project commences.
B. Main Features
Often required by law; policies; administrative orders; or regulations, EIA systematically identifies, predicts and assesses the actual and potential environmental consequences of a project, before the project is approved. The EIA process ensures proponents take responsibility for minimising the environmental impacts of their proposed project. Decision makers and other stakeholders use information generated from the EIA process to identify environmental management options and to decide if and how the proposed project will proceed. A key feature of EIA is public participation.
Used in many countries, the aim of EIA is to reduce the environmental impact of a project at the earliest possible stage during the project cycle, that is, during the planning stage. Whilst EIA processes differ between countries and projects, there are several common components:
Some countries are attempting to take EIA by further integrating it into planning mechanisms and expanding its scope to cover sustainable development and cumulative effects.
- Screening - is an EIA required; what level of detail is required.
- Scoping - what are the issues and impacts of the project; who are the stakeholders; what is the current state of the environment.
- Identification of alternatives - what alternatives exist.
- Impact analysis - what are the environmental, social and other related impacts of the project.
- Mitigation and impact management - how will the impacts be mitigated, reduced or managed.
- Evaluation of significance - are the impacts acceptable.
- Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or report - documentation of the proposal, impacts, impact mitigation and management options, level of significance and concerns.
- Review of EIS - EIS is open for public comment for a sufficient period of time.
- Decision making - public comments considered and a decision made whether to accept the proposal as is, modify the proposal or reject the proposal outright.
- Monitoring and review - develop an implementation plan; begin monitoring and review of the project.
EIA has suffered much criticism over the years including criticism about: poor public consultation practices; poorly written reports; costly, inefficient and time consuming practices; limited scope; information understated or omitted from reports; EIA treated as a separate process and not integrated into the project cycle; lack of monitoring and review of terms set out in reports; and inconsistent application. The result is a lack of confidence in the EIA process by both decision makers and the general public.
C. Organizational Proponent
EIA began in 1970 with the introduction of the US National Environment Policy Act (NEPA).
D. Case Studies and Examples
1. Copenhagen Airport
An EIA was undertaken for the extension of Copenhagen Airport in the late 1990s. Before the EIA began, the public was invited to put forward ideas and proposals for the project. These suggestions were included in the EIA and stimulated public debate. The EIA generated several reports: an environmental report, a regional plan directive, a local plan and an environmental approval. The environmental report included mapping; registration; analyses; forecasts; and assessments of noise, air quality, soil and groundwater, wastewater, surface water, waste, resources, architecture, landscape, flora, fauna and socio-economic impacts of the proposal. The regional plan directive established general guidelines for the use of land around the airport. The local plan defined provisions for the use of the area, size and location of buildings, traffic, unbuilt areas, etc. The environmental approval set terms and conditions and defined preventive requirements.
The Madrid Protocol provides for environmental protection of Antarctica and all requires activities within Antarctica to undertake an EIA and receive approval before commencing. The level of coverage and detail of the EIA depends on which category the activity falls within. All EIAs must follow set principles. The Australian Antarctica Division is the EIA consent authority for any activity within the Australian Antarctica Territory, or any Australian activity anywhere in Antarctica. In addition to following the Madrid Protocol, Australian activities must also follow Australian EIA and Environmental Protection legislation.
E. Target Sectors / Stakeholders
Key stakeholders are the organisation proposing the project; government agencies; communities, residents, business, etc that are potentially or actually affected by the proposal; non-government organisations; environment consultants; and decision makers.
F. Scale of Operation
EIA is applicable to projects.