Environmental Impact Assessment:
Environmental Impact Assessment: Definition, Roles and Classification
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can be defined as the systematic identification and evaluation of the potential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans, programs or legislative actions relative to the physical, chemical, biological, cultural and socio-economic components of the total environment.
The primary purpose of the EIA process is to encourage the consideration of the environmental issues in planning and decision making and to ultimately arrive at actions which are more environmentally compatible
The potential scope of a comprehensive EIA system is considerable and could include the appraisal of policies, plans, programmes and specific projects.
EIA, as it has developed in many countries, involves a number of procedures and stages:
- Identification of projects requiring EIA, sometimes known as screening;
- Identification of the key issues to be addressed in an EIA, called scoping;
Impact assessment and evaluation;
- Impact mitigation and monitoring;
- Review of the completed Environmental Impact Statement and;
- Public participation.
The result of an EIA is assembled in a document known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which looks at all the positive and negative effects of a particular project on the environment. This report is just one component of the information required to aid decision makers in making their ultimate decision about a project.
EIA can be considered as a mechanism which maximizes the efficient use of natural and human resources. It can also reduce costs and time taken to reach a decision by ensuring that subjectivity and duplication of effort are minimized, as well as identifying and attempting to evaluate the primary and secondary consequences which might require the introduction of expensive pollution control equipment or compensation and other costs at a later date.
“Environment” in EIA context mainly focuses physical, chemical, biological, geological, social, economical, and aesthetic dimensions along with .their complex interactions, which affects individuals, communities and ultimately determines their forms, character, relationship, and survival.
Sustainable development is built on three basic pillars: economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. Economic growth achieved in a way that does not consider, the environmental concerns, will not be sustainable in the long run.
However, sustainable development needs careful integration of three constituents—environmental, economic, and social needs in order to achieve both an increased standard of living in the short term, and a net gain or equilibrium among human, natural, and economic resources to support future generations in the long term. “It is necessary to understand the links between environment and development in order to make development choices that will be economically efficient, socially equitable and responsible, and environmentally sound.”
EIA have two Roles: legal and educational:
- The legal one is quite straight forward to ensure that development projects such as a housing estate, a road/bridge or some such construction project has a minimal impact on the environment in its entire ‘lifecycle’ – i.e. during design, construction, use, maintenance, and demolition. Many countries now have laws stipulating that unless an EIA study is carried out particularly for large infrastructure projects, permission for construction will not be granted by the local authority.
- The educational role is equally important to educate everyone involved both professionals and users. We need to look at all our daily actions as eventually and cumulatively affecting the environment. This includes our daily choices, where a delicate balance between financial and environmental considerations needs to be made automatically without thinking.
There is a need to emphasize and to promote the new paradigm of preventive the management to protect the environment in the process of development of the nation. Various tools of preventive management be classified into following three groups.
Indicators can be classified in to environmental performance indicators and environmental condition indicators. The environmental performance indicators can be further divided into two categories namely, operational performance indicators and management performance indicators.
The operational performance indicators are related to the process and other operational activities of the organization, and would typically address the issue of raw material consumption, energy consumption, water consumption in the organization, the quantities of waste water generated, other solid wastes generated, emission from the organization.
Classification of EIA:
EIA can be classified based on the purpose and the theme of development. EIA can be climate impact assessment, demographic impact assessment, development impact assessment, ecological impact assessment, economic and fiscal impact assessment, health impact assessment, risk assessment, social impact assessment, strategic impact assessment, technology assessment.
In addition to this list, EIA is also categorised based on systematic analysis of environmental parameters, geographical region, carrying capacity limitations and sectoral planning. They are strategic EIA, regional EIA, sectoral EIA, project level EIA and life cycle assessment.
Strategic EIA (SEIA):
Strategic EIA refers to systematic analysis of the environmental effects of development policies, plans, programs and other proposed strategic actions. This process extends the aims and principles of EIA upstream in the decision- making process, beyond the project level and when major alternatives are still open. Strategic EIA represents a proactive approach to integrate environmental considerations into the higher level of decision-making.
EIA in the context of regional planning integrates environmental concerns into development planning for a geographic region, normally at the sub- country level. Such an approach is referred to as the economic-cum- environmental (EcE) development planning. This approach facilitates adequate integration of economic development with management of renewable natural resources within the carrying capacity limitation to achieve sustainable development.
It fulfills the need for macro-level environmental integration, which the project-oriented EIA is unable to address effectively. Regional EIA addresses the environmental impacts of regional development plans and thus, the context for project-level EIA of the subsequent projects, within the region. In addition, if environmental effects are considered at regional level, then cumulative environmental effects of all the projects within the region can be accounted.
Instead of project-level-EIA, an EIA should take place in the context of regional and sectoral level planning. Once sectoral level development plans have the integrated sectoral environmental concerns addressed, the scope of project-level EIA will be quite narrow. Sectoral EIA will help to address specific environmental problems that may be encountered in planning and implementing sectoral development projects.
Project Level EIA:
Project level EIA refers to the developmental activity in isolation and the impacts that it exerts on the receiving environment. Thus, it may not effectively integrate the cumulative effects of the development in a region.
Life Cycle Assessment:
A broader approach to deal with environmental impacts in manufacturing is called life cycle analysis. This approach recognizes that environmental concerns enter into every step of the process with respect to the manufacturing, of the products and thus examines environmental impacts of the product at all stages of the product life cycle.
This includes the product design, development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, usage and disposal. LCA is concerned with reducing environmental impacts at all these stages and looking at the total picture rather than just one stage of the production process. Through utilizing this concept, firms minimize the life cycle environmental costs of their total product system. LCA gives sufficient scope to think about the. alternatives which are lower at cost.
From the above discussion, it is clear that EIA shall be integrated at all the levels i.e. strategic, regional, sectoral and the project level. Whereas, the strategic EIA is a structural change, the regional EIA refers to substantial information processing and drawing complex inferences.
The project-level EIA is relatively simple and reaches to meaningful conclusions. As we progress and the resource planning concepts emerge in our decision- making process, the integration of overall regional issues will become part of the impact assessment studies.
IEMA’s Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessment!
The environment impact process was introduced with the purpose of identifying /evaluating the potential beneficial and adverse impacts of development projects on the environment, taking in to account environmental, social, cultural and aesthetic considerations.
All of these considerations are critical to determine the viability of a project and to decide if a project should be granted environmental clearance. Environment is a quite comprehensive term that includes not only the areas of air, water, plants and animals, but also other natural and man-modified features like transportation systems, land use characteristics, community structures as well as economic stability.
As a result of environmental degradation due to unrestrained industrial and technological progresses and over-exploitation of natural resources; there has been increasing awareness in environmental issues -in sustainability and the better management of development, in harmony with the environment in recent decades.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool that is used to consider the likely significant environmental effects of a proposed development. EIA as an environmental management tool is used around the world in developed and developing nations.
Whilst this e-brief focuses on EIA in the UK, the principles of EIA that it identifies are relevant to any EIA in any country. EIA is an iterative process. The key stages in the process include proposal identification, screening, scoping, impact assessment, mitigation, review, decision making and follow up.
In fact EIA is a tool that seeks to ensure sustainable development through the evaluation of those impacts arising from a major activity (policy, plan, program, or project) that are likely to have significant environmental effects. Such impacts include both beneficial and adverse effects on the natural environment.
There might be several beneficial benefits of a major activity (policy, plan, program, or project) but only one or a few immitigable adverse effects may throw it out of consideration for adaptability. The principal adverse impacts include soil contamination, water pollution, air pollution, noise health effects, and ecology impacts, including endangered species and geological hazards.
The role of ELA is to inform the decision maker of the significant environmental impacts that are likely to occur if the development proposal is granted consent. The IEMA’s Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessment identify a number of immediate and long term objectives of EIA. Immediate objectives of EIA are to:
- Improve the environmental design of the proposal;
- Check the environmental acceptability of the proposals compared to the capacity of the site and the receiving environment;
Ensure that resources are used appropriately and efficiently;
- Identify appropriate measures for mitigating the potential impacts of the proposal; and
- Facilitate informed decision making, including setting the environmental terms and conditions for implementing the proposal.
Long term objectives of EIA are to:
- Avoid irreversible changes and serious damage to the environment;
- Safeguard valuable resources, natural areas and ecosystem components;
Enhance the social aspects of proposals.
The Environment Impact Assessment: Objections and Action Programme
The probable effect of anthropogenic activities (due to the use of natural resources) on environment is called ‘environmental impact’.
The assessment and evaluation of environmental effects of human actions may be termed as ‘environmental impact assessment’ (EIA). The ‘environmental impact statement’ (EIS) refers to general statements on the probable impact of human activities on environment during the exploitation and processing of natural resources.
The broader aspects of the EIA are:
(i) Appraisal of prevailing environmental conditions;
(ii) Appraisal of production methods—both existing and proposed;
(iii) Methodologies related to EIA;
(iv) Possible impact of projects on environment—both existing and proposed;
(v) Development of the techniques of conservation of environment by modifying and improving the existing production technology.
Objectives of Environmental Impact Assessment:
The EIA had its beginnings in 1969 with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the USA.
The major objectives of NEPA are as follows:
- To declare a national policy in order to ensure productive relationship between human beings and the environment;
- To promote efforts so that damage to the environment can be prevented;
- To enhance our present level of understanding of ecological system and natural resources crucial for the survival of humans;
- To set up a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
After the enactment of NEPA, no approval was to be given to any proposed development planning and projects if the environment impact assessment is not done.
In India, the EIS was introduced in 1978 and now includes projects like:
(a) (i) river valley (ii) thermal power (iii) mining (iv) industries (v) nuclear powers (vi) railways, road, highways, bridges (vii) ports and harbours (viii) airports (ix) new towns (x) communication projects;
(b) Those requiring the approval of the Public Investment Board/Planning Commission/Central Electricity Authority;
(c) Those referred to the Ministry of Environment and Forests by other ministries;
(d) Those which are sensitive and located in environmentally hazardous areas;
(e) PSUs of the Centre where the project costs more than Rs 50 crore.
A Notification issued in January 1994 makes EIA statutory for 29 categories of developmental projects under various sectors such as industrial, mining, irrigation, power, transport, tourism, communication, etc. The EIA Notification was amended in 1984 in order to make public hearing an integral part of the assessment procedure. Environmental clearance is granted by the Impact Assessment Agency in the ministry of environment and forests.
This power has been delegated to the state governments in the case of co-generation power plants of any capacity, gas/naphta based and coal based power plants with fluidised bed technology of up to 500 MW capacity and conventional coal based power plants of up to 250 MW capacity except when located within 25 km of boundary of the reserved forests, biosphere reserves and critically polluted areas or within 50 km of inter-state boundary.
In the case of projects within the existing port limits except areas classified as CRZ-I, the power to get clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification has been delegated to the Ministry of Surface Transport. Special groups/committees and task forces are constituted as and when needed for expert inputs on major projects. After detailed scrutiny and assessment, the appraisal committee makes its recommendations for approval or rejection of the project.
To ensure transparency, the position of forest and environmental clearance has been brought out on website since February 1999. Depending on the nature of the project, certain safeguards are recommended. For monitoring and timely implementation of safeguards suggested, six regional offices of the ministry have been set up At Shillong, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Lucknow and Bhopal.
A National Environmental Appellate Authority has been constituted to hear appeals with respect to rejection of proposals from the environmental angle. The objective is to bring in transparency in the process and accountability, and to ensure the smooth and expeditious implementation of developmental schemes and projects.
An Environmental Impact Assessment Authority for the National Capital Region (NCR) has been constituted to deal with environmental project problems arising out of projects planned in the NCR.
Environment Action Programme:
The government formulated an Environment Action Programme (EAP) in January 1994. The aim is to strengthen environment impact assessment of various projects through an organised system of natural resource accounting and environmental statistics.
The EAP focusses on the following areas:
(i) Conservation of biodiversity including forests, marine life and mountain ecosystems;
(ii) Conservation of soil and moisture and ensuring that water sources do not get polluted;
(iii) Control of industrial pollution and waste;
(iv) Access to clean technologies;
(v) Tackling urban environmental issues;
(vi) Strengthening environmental education, training, awareness and resources management;
(vii) Alternative energy plan.
The programmes envisaged in the EAP coordinate with the thrust areas identified in the Agenda 21 adopted at the Earth Summit in June 1992.
Environmental management is necessary to ensure we make judicious use of our natural resources and for sustainable development. Management of environmental resources involves steps for their conservation so that we may fulfill our needs without jeopardizing the interests of the generations to come. Environmental management is necessary to ensure the ecosystem remains resilient; the biodiversity of species is preserved; and the environment is sustainable.