Environmental Impact Assessment Process | Introduction to EIA Process
EIA is intended to identify the impacts (both beneficial and adverse) of proposed public and private development activities. Often, the focus is dominantly environmental (biophysical), but the good practice also addresses social and economic aspects. EIA is mainly used at the level of specific developments and projects such as dams, industrial plants, transport infrastructure (e.g., airport runways and roads), farm enterprises, and natural resource exploitation (e.g., sand extraction).
EIA is a key support tool for sustainable development. According to Wathern (1988), it is a process that has the ultimate objective of providing decision-makers with an indication of the likely consequences of their actions.
Environmental Impact Assessment Process (EIA process)
The following steps are involved in the EIA process discussed below:
1. Screening: Not all development projects require EIA. Project screening helps in the identification of the projects that do require screening. It may be defined as the process of determining whether or not an individual project proposal requires a full-scale EIA and what the level of assessment should be.
2. Scoping: Scoping is the process that determines the coverage of the environmental impact assessment. It determines the nature and extent of the required impact assessment.
3. Impact assessment: The objective of this phase is to identify how the activities of the proposed development will impact the various components of the environment.
4. Mitigation: Mitigation entails the identification of ways in which negative impacts can be avoided or minimized to limit costs and ways in which positive impacts can be enhanced to ensure maximum benefit.
5. Reporting: A single EIA report is produced and contains the integrated findings of the impact assessment and mitigation studies. This report is used by the authorities in decision-making.
6. Reviewing: In all jurisdictions, the authorities must officially review the EIA report and decide whether it is of an acceptable standard or not. To improve rigor and ensure that relevant information is captured and reflected, the process often includes review by the public and independent specialists prior to finalization and decision making.
7. Decision making: Decision making refers to the final approval or authorization of the proposal. It usually includes a series of conditions under which development may proceed.
8. Implementation: If the development is approved, the developer might be required to implement an environmental management plan (EMP) for construction, operation, and, in some instances, decommissioning of the project.
Role of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in development and planning
The perception of sustainable progress has become a leading occurrence and this is the chief realm where EIA comes into action. It has been distinguished in Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development that ‘Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.
Moreover, EIA is well known for resolving these issues proficiently. Focusing on the expansion of the economy, these days most of the developing nations are combining EIA methods into their improvement and planning. Planning and development occur at a number of diverse scales and ecological consequences need to be addressed for each of them. Similarly, expansion and planning are designed in several stages.
Planning, development, and expansion occur at different levels and environmental consequences need to be addressed for each of them. With a focus on the expansion of the economy, nowadays most of the developing nations are integrating EIA procedures into their development and expansion plans.
Benefits of EIA
There are several benefits of the EIA. Some of them are:
• Help decide if the effects are feasible or need to be reduced for continuing the facility or proceeding with the proposed project.
• Design/implement suitable monitoring, mitigation, and management measures.
• Propose acceptable alternatives and prepare an environmental impact report (EIR).
• Assists in decision-making by giving the clear, well-structured, and composed investigation of the results and outcome of the recommended projects.
• Pre-emption or early extraction of unsound applications.
• Assists in the selection of alternatives, including the selection of the best practicable and most environment-friendly option.
• Persuades both, in selecting assignments and devise by screening out ecologically unsound projects, as well as modifying feasible projects mitigation of negative environmental and social impacts.
• Guides formal approval, including the establishment of terms and conditions of project implementation and follow-up.
• Results in best practice prediction and mitigation of the adverse effects of projects.
• Serves as an adaptive organizational learning process, in which the lessons of experience are incorporated into the overall policy, institutional framework, and project design enhancement of positive aspects.
• Incorporates stakeholder analysis.
• Mitigation of negative environmental and social impacts.
Some of the misconceptions and issues related to EIA
There are some of the misconceptions and issues related to EIA discussed below:
The EIA ensures that environmental factors are considered for decision-making apart from the traditional economic and technical factors. More significantly, the EIA also needs the technical issues to be handled in a single assessment process. It helps in evaluating the merits and demerits of a project proposal.
Environmental considerations might be taken into account for various kinds of significant factors. In contrast, the forecasted unfavorable environmental impacts might lead to the imposition of more severe conditions to evade any adverse impacts or perhaps lead to the refusal to the proposal altogether.
Although the EIAs are extensively used presently, yet major issues regarding the procedure and outcomes still persist. These comprise unpredictability about the future, the financial and environmental efficiency of the process, public uncertainty, etc.
As a concept the EIA process is not an authoritative law like a pollution law, rather it is an information policy. Generally, the masses are confused as to why, even after participating (making comments, providing data, etc.) in an EIA analysis that expresses the logical possibility of undesirable impacts, a decision is made to approve the project. Public information regarding the decision-makers and how a specific decision has to be made is usually found missing in the beginning stages of the EIA process.
Further, our abilities to forecast the future performance of sophisticated environmental systems are comparatively insufficient. The impact forecasts in most EIAs comprise graphs, tables, and maps. These do not specifically mention (through ranges, error bars, map zones, etc.) the quality of the information provided to the decision-makers and the community. Environmentalists, scientists, and decision-makers bear a strong doubt regarding the manipulations of presentations of many EIAs.
The real physical and socio-economic outcome as a result of the EIA process is insufficiently understood. Most program assessments put emphasis upon document outputs, like the EIA contents, instead of studying the real short- and long-term environment.
Basically, the EIA is an information process. Its roots and decision framework were chalked out before the Internet. Even though there are various isolated instances of information technology usage, the full potential of a collaborative and transparent decision process is still to be harnessed. Environmental modeling, data access, analysis of observations during the draft review, and adaptation of 3-D and motion visualization can effectuate key transformations in the field.