Every project that has the potential to have an impact on the environment must be subjected to the Environmental Impact Assessment process. This is usually done to ascertain its level of impact, whether positive or negative.
The Environmental Impact Assessment process (EIA process) has been in operation for over four decades. Its history dates back to the year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, in which the harmful effects of pesticides were first brought to the attention of the public. Gradually, concerns about population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and pollution began to increase in different countries.
In the USA, in the year 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law. NEPA was the first environmental law that required Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) of proposed projects that will significantly affect the quality of the human environment.
The act required federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes, by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.
Also, the Earth Day demonstration – planned by Senator Gaylord Nelson in April – in which 20 million U.S. citizens participated, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July 1970
After the US, other countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Columbia (1973-1974), and the Philippines (1978) adopted the Environmental Impact Assessment process.
In 1981, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) revised the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). By its revision, Environmental impact assessment (EIA) became a mandate to development assistance projects. This was the first attempt to introduce EIA systems in the field of development assistance
In 1989, the World Bank adopted EIA for major development projects, in which a borrower country had to undertake an EIA under the Bank’s supervision.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
Environmental Impact Assessment is an interdisciplinary step-by-step process of evaluation, coordinated by recognized authorities, on a proposed project, to ascertain the impact (positive or negative) that project will have on the environment where it is to be sited.
It is also defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment.
UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project before decision-making.
International Association for Impact Assessment defines it as is the systematic process of identifying the future consequences of a current or proposed action”
In the early years of the EIA.. the focus was on the biophysical impacts of proposed projects (i.e. water and air quality, flora and fauna, climate and hydrology, etc.). But today, EIA assesses social, health, and economic impacts. In general, an EIA is done for specific development projects, such as nuclear power stations, large dam developments, and housing developments.
Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument puts in check human activities on the environment. The Environmental Impact Assessment process is subject to a decision of a competent national authority.
EIA compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.
EIA does not only predict the impact of a proposed project. If negative, the Environmental Impact Assessment process proposes measures to mitigate adverse effects and predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, even after the mitigation is implemented.
The Environmental Impact Assessment process is one of the successful policy innovations of the 20th Century for environmental conservation. This process gives key decision-makers in a project updated information about the likely consequences of their decisions before they take those decisions.
Thus, they are accountable for their decisions. EIA process promotes informed and transparent decision-making while seeking to avoid, reduce or mitigate potential adverse impacts through the consideration of alternative options, sites, or processes.
EIA is an aspect of Environmental Assessment. While Environmental Assessment is a holistic study, EIA is directed towards a specific project.
Importance of Environmental Impact Assessment
- The Environmental Impact Assessment process is carried out at the inception of the project cycle thus, potential problems are detected on time.
- The Environmental Impact Assessment process ensures that there is a link between economic development and environmental sustainability. It also enables us in carrying out an environmental cost-benefit analysis of projects at an initial stage.
- It helps the planning and management to take long-term measures for effective management as well as environment conservation
- EIA is potentially a useful component of good environmental management.
- EIA process enables project managers to know which project needs full screening to prevent any damage to the environment.
- Helps to assess potential impacts relevant to the environmental legislation based on the legislative requirements.
- EIA not only identifies problems but also provides mitigation measures in advance to anticipate disasters likely to happen.
- Through Environmental Impact Assessment process, biodiversity and habitats are protected and conserved. This is achieved because of harmful project designs and methods, alternatives are provided.
- EIA predicts the negative or positive impact of a proposed project. This encourages the implementation of projects that impact the environment positively and discourages the implementation of destructive projects.
- EIA suggests possible, safer, or less damaging alternatives as a replacement to more damaging project designs and methods.
- EIA produces an environmental management plan and summary for the non-tech general public.
- The engagement of communities and other stakeholders in decision-making during EIA helps reduce conflicts associated with development projects.
- EIA promotes optimum utilization of resources and saving of time and cost of the project
- It promotes the implementation of environmentally sound projects
The Environmental Impact Assessment Act
The EIA Act was established in 1992. The act states clearly the requirements for an EIA, how the EIA exercise should and should not be carried out, who carries it out, projects that require EIA, and those that do not.
According to the act, EIA is not required if the proposed project is in the list of projects with minimal environmental impact as agreed upon by the approved agency; the project is to be carried out during a national emergency for which temporary measures have been taken by the Government; the project is to be carried out in response to circumstances that, in the opinion of the Agency, the project is in the interest of public health or safety.
The act also recommends EIA for projects on housing, fishery, agriculture, water supply, waste treatment and disposal, transportation, resort and recreational development, railways, quarries, power generation and transmission, mining, petroleum, ports, infrastructure, industry, forestry, land reclamation, airport, drainage, and irrigation. Specifications can be seen on http://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/nig18378.pdf
9 Stages in Environmental Impact Assessment Process
- Project Identification and Definition
- Baseline Study
- Impact analysis
- Impact Mitigation
- EIA Report
- Review of Draft EIA Report
The stages in an Environmental Impact Assessment process differ from one country to the other. However, the basic stages must be applied as a standard of good practice. These stages common in all EIA structures are screening, scoping, impact analysis, mitigation measures, reporting, review, decision making, and auditing. The stages involved in an Environmental Impact Assessment process is determined by the requirements of the country or donor.
1. Project Identification and Definition
This stage seems insignificant but can become complex especially for large and multiple projects. The proposed project is stated and specifically defined to determine with accuracy, the zone of possible impacts and to include activities that are closely connected with the proposal so that the entire scope of environmental impacts is evaluated.
Screening is done to determine whether a project requires an EIA or not and the level of assessment to be carried out. The threshold requirement for an EIA may depend on the monetary value of a project, the impact the project will have or the type of project, it is. In some places, there is a list of projects that require EIA.
When a project proposal has been submitted to the agency in charge of EIA in a particular area, the agency sends a representative to the project promoter. They discuss topics such as the reason of the project, the size, cost, main stakeholders, opposition, and whether some parts of the project are negotiable or not. The EIA agent also considers and interrogates all the people that are in charge of the different categories of the project to assess exactly what all the impacts of the project will be.
A trip to the site is very necessary during screening. Details such as the exact coordinates of the site are taken. In situ tests are also carried out, pictures of the site and surrounding environment are taken. These will make the project more realistic and easy to assess while away from the site.
Regulations applicable to the project are also studied at this stage of the Environmental Impact Assessment process. This is important because these regulations could also determine whether a basic or full-scale environmental impact assessment is required.
Screening facilitates informed decision-making. It provides a clear, well-structured, factual analysis of the effects and consequences of proposed actions. During this process, environmentally, socially,, and economically unsound projects are screened out
The environmental impact of a project can change over time. Therefore, during the screening step as well as the whole EIA process, impacts are considered over the lifetime of the project, from the construction phase through to operations and after closing.
Scoping is the stage in the Environmental Impact Assessment process that makes the general public and NGOs aware of a proposed project and allows them to air their opinions about the project. During scoping, the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated are identified. This identification is based on legislative requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge,, and public involvement. The boundary and time limit of the study is also set.
Scoping activities also include Identifying the key stakeholders and introducing them to the project and the stakeholders’ list, highlighting the most significant issues, values, and concerns that need attention during an EIA, the decision on whether to proceed with a project or not, finding alternative designs or sites for a project, incorporating safeguards in the design of the project, or providing compensation for adverse impacts, identifying all the policies, regulations and detailed aspects of the assessment and finally to derive Terms Of Reference (TOR) for the impact assessment.
The TOR serves as a guide for EIA preparation. An ideal TOR covers all the issues and impacts that have been identified during the scoping process.
TOR contains the following information:
- Project description
- List of the agencies or ministries responsible for overseeing the EIA process and making decisions
- Project site (also called the ‘impact zone’)
- EIA requirements in applicable laws or regulations
- Impacts and issues to be studied
- Mitigation and/or monitoring systems to be designed
- Provisions for public involvement
- Key stakeholders
- Timeframe for completing the EIA process
- Expected work product and deliverables.
- EIA budget
A draft TOR can be made available for the public to review and make their comments.
4. Baseline Study
In this stage, comprehensive study of the project site and its environment is carried out. Components studied include the physio-chemical environment (climate, meteorology, geology, soil type and distribution, groundwater characteristics, air quality, and noise levels); biological environment (location and distribution of flora and fauna wildlife characteristics); socio-economic and health conditions describing the demography, culture, heritage sites, social and health status of the people and their environment.
Baseline data can be obtained from literature, field surveys, measurements, and the collection of representative samples, etc.
5. Impact Analysis
Here, all significant environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed project are identified and predicted including the detailed elaboration of alternatives to the project design.
6. Impact Mitigation
After all, impacts have been predicted and identified, actions to reduce the level of environmental damage and to avoid the potential adverse consequences of the proposed project are recommended.
7. EIA Report
After these stages discussed above, a report known as the Draft EIA report is produced. It is called a draft because it has not been approved. The report serves as a decision-making tool to the public and as a guide for the proponent when executing the project. For these reasons, the report must be written to the understanding of everyone, in adherence to the TOR and International Best Practices.
The report gives a summary of the Environmental Impact Assessment process. It starts with an executive summary of the project and ends with details of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) that will guide the execution of the project.
8. Review of Draft EIA Report
This review examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the draft EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
EIA report review undergoes internal review, external review, and formal public hearing. An internal review is carried out by selected experts in the regulatory agency. External review is carried out by professionals outside the regulatory agency. Copies of the draft EIA are sent across to these experts (especially those in academia) for review and feedback.
A public hearing is carried out by the stakeholders- those that will be affected by the project in one way or the other. This includes members of the community where the project is to be sited, NGOs, Local government, etc.
Stakeholder’s involvement comes with a lot of benefits. It helps to connect traditional knowledge of the environment to the project. This adds more details to the EIA report. It also makes known the community’s views about the project and prevents chaos associated with development projects.
At this stage, a project can be approved, rejected, or subjected to further change. A project is approved if all concerns raised during the review were addressed by the EIA team or if all significant adverse effects have been properly mitigated. When these factors are not in place, the project will not be approved.
Once a project has been approved, the regulatory body issues the proponent an Environmental Impact Statement. This certificate is a go-ahead order for the proponent to commence his project.
Post monitoring or audit comes into play once the project has been commissioned. Projects are monitored to ensure that their impacts do not exceed the legal standards. It is done to ensure that the implementation of the mitigation measures is in the manner described in the EIA report.
Who can carry out an EIA?
Depending on the EIA system in place, EIA is carried out by either (1) the government agency or ministry, or (2) the project proponent.
If EIA laws permit, either party may opt to hire a consultant to prepare the EIA or handle specific portions of the EIA process, such as public participation or technical studies.
Which countries have the EIA in place?
All countries carry out EIA for major projects.
Who prepares EIA Report?
EIA report is prepared by the party that carries out the EIA process. This could be the regulatory agency or the project proponent.
How long can an EIA process take?
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, “The length of the EIA will depend on the program, plan or project under review. However, the process usually lasts from between 6 and 10 months from preparation through to review”.
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