Environmental impact assessment

Environmental assessment (EA) is the assessment of the environmental consequences (positive and negative) of a plan, policy, program, or actual projects prior to the decision to move forward with the proposed action. In this context, the term “environmental impact assessment” (EIA) is usually used when applied to actual projects by individuals or companies and the term “strategic environmental assessment” (SEA) applies to policies, plans and programmes most often proposed by organs of state. Environmental assessments may be governed by rules of administrative procedure regarding public participation and documentation of decision making, and may be subject to judicial review.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment as “the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made”. EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts.

History of EIA
Environmental impact assessments commenced in the 1960s, as part of increasing environmental awareness. EIAs involved a technical evaluation intended to contribute to more objective decision making. In the United States, environmental impact assessments obtained formal status in 1969, with enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act. EIAs have been used increasingly around the world. The number of “Environmental Assessments” filed every year “has vastly overtaken the number of more rigorous Environmental Impact Statements (EIS).” An Environmental Assessment is a “mini-EIS designed to provide sufficient information to allow the agency to decide whether the preparation of a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is necessary.” EIA is an activity that is done to find out the impact that would be done before development will occur.

General and industry specific assessment methods are available including:

Industrial products – Product environmental life cycle analysis (LCA) is used for identifying and measuring the impact of industrial products on the environment. These EIAs consider activities related to extraction of raw materials, ancillary materials, equipment; production, use, disposal and ancillary equipment.

Genetically modified plants – Specific methods available to perform EIAs of genetically modified organisms include GMP-RAM and INOVA.

Fuzzy logic – EIA methods need measurement data to estimate values of impact indicators. However, many of the environment impacts cannot be quantified, e.g. landscape quality, lifestyle quality and social acceptance. Instead information from similar EIAs, expert judgment and community sentiment are employed. Approximate reasoning methods known as fuzzy logic can be used. A fuzzy arithmetic approach has also been proposed and implemented using a software tool (TDEIA).

At the end of the project, an audit evaluates the accuracy of the EIA by comparing actual to predicted impacts. The objective is to make future EIAs more valid and effective. Two primary considerations are:

Scientific – to examine the accuracy of predictions and explain errors
Management – to assess the success of mitigation in reducing impacts
Audits can be performed either as a rigorous assessment of the null hypothesis or with a simpler approach comparing what actually occurred against the predictions in the EIA document.

After an EIA, the precautionary and polluter pays principles may be applied to decide whether to reject, modify or require strict liability or insurance coverage to a project, based on predicted harms.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is a sector specific method for checking the quality of Environmental and Social assessments and management plans.

Transboundary application
Environmental threats do not respect national borders. International pollution can have detrimental effects on the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, aquifers, farmland, the weather and biodiversity. Global climate change is transnational. Specific pollution threats include acid rain, radioactive contamination, debris in outer space, stratospheric ozone depletion and toxic oil spills. The Chernobyl disaster, precipitated by a nuclear accident on April 26, 1986, is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of transboundary nuclear pollution.

Environmental protection is inherently a cross-border issue and has led to the creation of transnational regulation via multilateral and bilateral treaties. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE or Stockholm Conference) held in Stockholm in 1972 and the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED or Rio Summit, Rio Conference, or Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 were key in the creation of about 1,000 international instruments that include at least some provisions related to the environment and its protection.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context was negotiated to provide an international legal framework for transboundary EIA.

However, as there is no universal legislature or administration with a comprehensive mandate, most international treaties exist parallel to one another and are further developed without the benefit of consideration being given to potential conflicts with other agreements. There is also the issue of international enforcement. This has led to duplications and failures, in part due to an inability to enforce agreements. An example is the failure of many international fisheries regimes to restrict harvesting practises. Application shall be achieved by the willing of counties authorities. / Aphro10

Instruments of environmental impact assessment
The environmental impact study is an important instrument for the evaluation of the environmental impact of a project. It is a technical, objective, multi-purpose and interdisciplinary study, which is carried out to predict and manage the environmental impacts that may arise from the execution of a project, activity or political decision allowing the decision making on the environmental viability of the same. It is the basic document for the process of Environmental Impact Assessment.

The drafting and signing of the environmental impact study is the task of a multidisciplinary team composed of specialists in the interpretation of the project and environmental factors most relevant to that particular project (for example, atmosphere, water, soil, vegetation, fauna, cultural resources, etc.) that are normally integrated in an Environmental Consulting company.

The study of the environmental impact is made in several stages, parallel to the stages of the intervention that is intended to be evaluated.

For these purposes, intervention should be understood not only as a work, such as a bridge or road, but also as an intervention that may have an impact on the environment, the creation of a regulation or a modification of an existing regulation. For example, the increase in the import tax on raw material for the manufacture of plastics may induce the use of recyclable containers.

Each proposed intervention is analyzed according to the possible environmental impacts. Also, depending on the stage in which it is in the project cycle, the possible alternatives to the proposed alternative are analyzed. Always among the alternatives analyzed, the alternative of Project zero is considered.

Preliminary environmental impact study
The environmental impact studies are developed with available bibliographic information that replaces the EIA in those cases in which the activities do not involve an intensive or extensive use of the land, such as aerial photography, aeromagnetometry, surface geology, or in the case of recognized activities. little impact to develop in non-fragile ecosystems.

These are studies that the proponent elaborates to contrast the action with the environmental protection criteria and that helps him to decide the scope of the environmental analysis in more detail.

Partial environmental impact study
Analysis that includes those projects (works or activities) whose execution may have environmental impacts that would very partially affect the environment and where their negative effects can be eliminated or minimized through the adoption of known and easily applicable measures.

Study baseline or socio-environmental diagnosis
It consists of a situational diagnosis that is made to determine the environmental conditions of a geographic area before the project is executed, it includes all the biotic, abiotic and socio-cultural aspects of the ecosystem. It involves carrying out a detailed inventory of the biotic component and defining or characterizing the abiotic component. In the Spanish procedure this stage is usually called “Characterization of the Environment” or “Inventory of the Environment”.

Detailed environmental impact study
Analysis that includes those projects (works or activities) whose execution can produce negative environmental impacts of quantitative or qualitative significance, that merit a deeper analysis to review the impacts and to propose the corresponding environmental management strategy.

In the Latin American context, as an important part of this stage of the studies it may be necessary to develop plans for resettlement of populations, plan mitigation of impacts, training plan and monitoring plan.

The characteristics of this study are the project analysis, which highlights the environmental aspects of the project, the analysis of alternatives that the situation without a project should contemplate, the identification and assessment of impacts that are usually carried out through different matrices of impacts, the proposed measures preventive, corrective and compensatory, a surveillance and monitoring program, and finally a restoration plan for the end of the useful life of the projected installation. The resulting report is accompanied by a synthesis document written in a way that is understandable to the public and exposed for a time to the claims that individuals and institutions wish to present.

Strategic Environmental Assessment
Analysis of the synergistic or cumulative environmental impacts of policies, plans and programs that allow for advanced conditions that must be incorporated into specific actions.

Conducting the environmental impact assessment
The realization of the environmental evaluation is the responsibility of the borrower. The project government makes arrangements for environmental assessment; often consultants or an institution are chosen to elaborate the analyzes. When it is necessary to use international experts to provide skills not available in the country receiving the credit, it is also advisable to encourage the participation of local consultants, in order to take advantage of local knowledge and strengthen their capacity for future environmental assessment work.

The environmental evaluation is more effective when the results, although preliminary, are disclosed from the beginning of the preparation process. At that time, desirable alternatives from an environmental point of view (sites, technologies, etc.) can be considered realistically, and the implementation and operation plans can be designed to respond to critical environmental problems for maximum effectiveness. costs. Later it becomes very expensive to make important design changes, select an alternative proposal, or decide not to continue with a project. Even more expensive are the delays in the implementation of a project due to environmental problems not contemplated in its design. Consequently, it is essential to integrate the environmental assessment into the feasibility study and design.

The implementation plan for the environmental assessment should enable frequent coordination meetings between the environmental assessment team and the feasibility study, to exchange information on environmental problems and the responses they require. The preliminary drafts of the most important sections of the environmental assessment and the presentations on specific problems are also useful as means of communication between the teams, especially when making key decisions as preparation progresses. Most successful environmental assessments usually receive full reviews midway through the period.

The work director must agree with the borrower which drafts, if any, he wants to see the financial institution, and when. At a minimum, however, the director of work should review a final version, with the help of the Regional Environmental Division of the funder, in order to determine if the problems he considers important have been addressed, and thus obtain the necessary clarifications and transmit other comments to the borrower, in the desire to have information on all critical environmental problems before the evaluation. Since in practice some final environmental assessments may be ready only a short time before the assessment, it is also very desirable to make a preliminary review at an appropriate interim stage (eg, by identifying all significant environmental problems and describing mitigation measures). This will ensure a correct scope in the environmental assessment; the communication between the designers and the environmental assessment team; and that in reality, the changes that the project requires to deal with environmental problems are being made. In general, most of the main concerns are known during the first months; The rest of the environmental evaluation period focuses on mitigation measures. most of the main concerns are known during the first months; The rest of the environmental evaluation period focuses on mitigation measures. most of the main concerns are known during the first months; The rest of the environmental evaluation period focuses on mitigation measures.

It is recommended that the interim environmental assessments and their respective studies be disseminated among interested agencies, affected communities, and NGOs that participate in the preparation of the project. Encourages its member countries to prepare environmental assessments on this basis. However, since the environmental assessment is owned by the borrower, only the document can be publicly disclosed with the consent of the initial borrower.

EIA participants
In the EIA procedure, the customer, the executor of the impact assessment work and the public participate.

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The customer is a legal entity or individual responsible for preparing documentation for the proposed activity in accordance with the regulatory requirements for this type of activity for environmental review.

The executor of works on environmental impact assessment is a natural or legal person carrying out an environmental impact assessment, to which the customer has granted the right to conduct work on environmental impact assessment. The contractor is responsible for the completeness and reliability of the assessments, compliance with their environmental standards and standards.

In the process of implementation of the TOR for the EIA, the performer conducts studies on impact assessment taking into account the project alternatives, the objectives of the activity, the methods for achieving them, etc., which result in a preliminary version of the exposure assessment materials that the client acquaints the public with. After analyzing the public’s comments and the results of public hearings, the performer prepares the final version of the materials on impact assessment. The final version of the EIA is submitted for state environmental review as part of another pre-project and project documentation. It is also possible to carry out public environmental review.

The third party to the EIA is the region’s public. It can be included in the procedural process at the stage of presenting the initial information and at the stages of the EIA. Participate in public hearings, public discussions.

The procedure
Requirements to the developer
Determination of characteristics of the state of the environment in the area of the location of the facility;
analysis of species, main sources and intensity of the existing technogenic impact in the area under consideration;
identification of the nature, volume and intensity of the proposed impact of the projected facility on the components of the environment in the process of construction and operation;
description of the objectives of the implementation of the proposed activities, possible alternatives;

The EIA principles
The application of EIA as a decision-making tool at the earliest stages of design and the availability at the same stages of information on project solutions for the public;
consideration in interrelation of technological, technical, social, nature protection and economic indicators of project proposals;
alternative design solutions, the formation of new options;
responsibility of the customer (initiator) of the activity for the consequences of the implementation of design decisions.
The customer provides financing for all EIA procedures.

The EIA includes:

determination of the resource potential of territories and the background state of the environment;
development of an EIA program;
assessment of alternative options for construction or economic activities;
assessment of the magnitude and duration of the potential environmental impact of the project;
Monitoring the impact of the project on the environment;
development of measures and measures to reduce the level of environmental impact;
public hearings and environmental review;
preparation of reports on the analysis of the environmental impact of the project.
The final version of the EIA materials should include the protocols of public hearings.

Stages of the conduct
In accordance with the methodology of the International Organization for Impact Assessment, the EIA process is a sequential transition in the following stages:

Screening, in which it is determined whether it is necessary to evaluate the project in terms of impact on the environment and how detailed.
Scopping is the identification of problems and spheres of influence that seem important, as well as the identification of sources of information for the EIA
Evaluation of alternative projects, which results in the identification of the most preferable, environmentally friendly way to achieve the stated goals
Impact assessment – definition and prediction of the degree of ecological, biological and social impact of the project

At the stage of impact assessment, quantitative impact indicators are analyzed, namely:
intensity of impact (incoming pollutants per unit time)
Specific power of impact (receipt of pollutants per unit area)
periodicity of the effect in time (discrete, continuous, single exposure)
duration of exposure (year, month, etc.)
spatial boundaries of impact (depth, size and shape of the impact zone)
Management of environmental impact – the establishment of activities necessary to eliminate, minimize, or compensate for the adverse consequences of the introduction of programs, project implementation, etc.
Assessment of significance is the determination of the relative importance and acceptability of other components of the environmental impact (for example, those that can not be eliminated). The goal of this stage is to reduce the initial list of influences by choosing only those that are characterized by the greatest intensity and duration. The following significance criteria are used:

a significant area of impact
impact on specially protected areas
especially dangerous production
Preparation of a report on the conduct of the EIA
Decision-making – the adoption of a project or the refusal of its implementation, as well as the establishment of conditions for its implementation
Supervision of compliance with the prescribed conditions for the project, monitoring the degree of the project’s impact on the environment, as well as the effectiveness of measures to reduce the negative consequences.

Limitations and challenges
The impact studies are financed by the petitioner, and they have long been mandatory only from a financial threshold and they are only for certain projects (classified installations, large projects..), while a sum of many small seemingly innocuous projects can generate even greater environmental, social and health impacts, even greater than a large and very expensive project.

Land consolidation in France is the subject of an impact study, but the sum of the impacts of agriculture, which generally occupies 20 to 75% of the landscape of the regions, is not studied, nor is that of the common urbanism or “roadkill” (animals killed on the roads). Only a few of the indirect and deferred effects in space and time of a project are generally studied.

One of the findings of the balance sheets of the laws of 1976, drawn up in 1996 (by France Nature Environment in particular) and in 2006 by the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development in France, is that if they have allowed real progress in certain areas, they have not been enough to stop the overall degradation of the environment. Impact studies are still often incomplete or poorly done, especially for the following reasons:

Lack of time and financial resources for the experts needed for the fine environmental assessments.

Failure of specifications (some specifications require that only certain aspects be addressed, for example by avoiding indirect or secondary impacts or impacts on human health, cumulative and / or synergistic impacts, or induced by light pollution, by energy impacts (greenhouse gas emissions), in terms of ecological footprint, etc.), or by treating only the protected species for which the developer must request exemptions or authorizations of destruction.

Lack of access to essential information but considered confidential for industrial, patent, military or political reasons. In many countries, plans and documents prepared for national defense or civil protection purposes are not subject to environmental assessment, although it is known that many polluted sites are of military origin or are a legacy of war.

Lack of time and / or technical skills for fauna-flora and ecological inventories, especially in tropical forest, aquatic or marine areas where many species are unknown or known only to a few specialists, where species are sometimes difficult to access (on the canopy, under the ground) and unpredictable impacts (for example on coral reefs for harbor and coastal developments).

Inadequate consideration of indirect and secondary impacts (delayed in space and time): for example, experience has shown in France that the creation of motorways generates very significant environmental impacts via the regrouping that they entailed., as much if not more than because of the fallout of pollution and the effect of ecological fragmentation of the motorway itself (same for the canals, TGV and other bypasses..).

Sometimes the impact study is well done, but the compensatory and conservatory measures it proposes are simply not implemented. Or the observatories needed to adjust over time the compensatory measures (planned for at least 3 years by law (LOTI) in France for major road projects are just hardly ever implemented).

Major projects must be subject to impact studies on the environment, but they are sometimes saucissonnés by their promoters (implemented in installments over time), allowing them to escape the studies impacts.

Some aspects such as fauna disturbance are particularly difficult to take into account and compensate.

The delayed impacts of fishing (at sea), hunting and agriculture or forestry that can be amplified by certain developments are rarely studied, and the study of the impacts of development on these activities is often very simplified, when it exists.

Compensatory measures (replanting trees, for example) may take decades to have a significant effect, while the negative impact was major and immediate.

The law sometimes imposes counterproductive measures, for example with the rehabilitation of quarries, generally justifying that they be reclaimed by waste, while a development more conducive to biodiversity and the conservation of water resources could be proposed, allowing the survival of the protected species that had generally settled there.

Impact studies condition certain marketing authorizations (for pesticides, medicines, chemicals, GMOs or products derived from nanotechnologies, etc.), but in the latter cases, the impact studies sent to authorities responsible for authorizing or approving these products (approval, provisional marketing authorization, etc.) are generally made by the applicant and at his own expense, without possible counter-expertise, which may limit its credibility).

In scientific doubt, faced with often important economic issues, the precautionary principle is difficult to apply.

As per Jay et al., EIA is used as a decision aiding tool rather than decision making tool. There is growing dissent about them as their influence on decisions is limited. Improved training for practitioners, guidance on bestpractice and continuing research have all been proposed.

EIAs have been criticized for excessively limiting their scope in space and time. No accepted procedure exists for determining such boundaries. The boundary refers to ‘the spatial and temporal boundary of the proposal’s effects’. This boundary is determined by the applicant and the lead assessor, but in practice, almost all EIAs address only direct and immediate on-site effects.

Development causes both direct and indirect effects. Consumption of goods and services, production, use and disposal of building materials and machinery, additional land use for activities of manufacturing and services, mining and refining, etc., all have environmental impacts. The indirect effects of development can be much higher than the direct effects examined by an EIA. Proposals such as airports or shipyards cause wide-ranging national and international effects, which should be covered in EIAs.

Broadening the scope of EIA can benefit the conservation of threatened species. Instead of concentrating on the project site, some EIAs employed a habitat-based approach that focused on much broader relationships among humans and the environment. As a result, alternatives that reduce the negative effects to the population of whole species, rather than local subpopulations, can be assessed.

Thissen and Agusdinata have argued that little attention is given to the systematic identification and assessment of uncertainties in environmental studies which is critical in situations where uncertainty cannot be easily reduced by doing more research. In line with this, Maier et al. have concluded on the need to consider uncertainty at all stages of the decision-making process. In such a way decisions can be made with confidence or known uncertainty. These proposals are justified on data that shows that environmental assessments fail to predict accurately the impacts observed. Tenney et al. and Wood et al. have reported evidence of the intrinsic uncertainty attached to EIAs predictions from a number of case studies worldwide. The gathered evidence consisted of comparisons between predictions in EIAs and the impacts measured during, or following project implementation. In explaining this trend, Tenney et al. have highlighted major causes such as project changes, modelling errors, errors in data and assumptions taken and bias introduced by people in the projects analyzed.

Source from Wikipedia