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1.5 Key issues in EIA

In order to identify the likely consequences of development, a series of steps must be undertaken to ensure that issues are approached in a systematic and rational way. These stages form what is known as the EIA process. The process is iterative, which means that it is not linear, but stages in the process recur and feed back into the process and the design of the project as new information is gathered. There are a number of key issues which run through EIA in all countries and which are essential components of the process, and which are highlighted below.

When is EIA required?

EIA is required for all projects that have been identified as likely to have a significant effect upon the environment. As you can probably imagine, defining what is 'significant' is not a simple task. The approaches used in different countries are outlined later.

When does EIA start?

To be effective, EIA should start early in the planning of a project in order materially to influence the design and location. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of undertaking EIA at an early stage. Advantages include fewer costs associated with rethinking a project, or delays resulting from an attempt to mitigate impacts late in the design process. The project is more likely to be accepted if it has dealt with the concerns of the local people at an early stage; EIA can be seen as aiding good environmental public relations. Cost-effective design, taking the environment into account, often means that the overall project development costs are reduced

Disadvantages of undertaking EIA early in the development process include the difficulty of assessing the impacts of a project which is not fully designed. It may be difficult to predict the costs of EIA, and indeed the project, when the final outcome is unknown as a result of not knowing what effects the consideration of the environment may have on the project.

What should be covered in an EIA?

It is important that the number of impacts considered in an EIA is reduced to a manageable number of key issues at an early stage. This helps to direct resources towards addressing important issues, which are of concern to involved parties and the wider public. Examples of the types of issues, which may be included, are pollution of watercourses, visual intrusion in a sensitive landscape, or the destruction of a habitat or area important for its cultural heritage.

Who carries out EIAs?

This varies in different counties. Frequently, it is the developer or environmental consultants acting on behalf of the developer who carry out EIAs. However, in other cases, the EIA can be commissioned by the decision-making authority or undertaken by an independent body.

What about the public?

Consultation and participation have formed an integral part of the EIA process since its inception and most EIA systems make some provision for the involvement of the public. The public have a democratic right to be informed about projects that will affect the environment in which they live and to voice their concerns. There is growing acceptance that increased consultation and participation can produce significant benefits for both the project proponent and those affected.

How are the results of the EIA presented?

The environmental impact statement (EIS) is the document that is presented to the decision-making body, alongside the application for development consent. It contains the environmental information and conclusions of the assessment and should be presented in a clear, unbiased manner, enabling non-specialists to determine what issues are at stake. A non-technical summary is often produced for wider distribution. Public meetings, exhibitions, and displays also provide a means of disseminating information to the public.