Nature of Environmental Impact Assessment
The Environmental Impact Assessment must identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner and in the light of each individual case, the direct and indirect effects of a project on the following environmental factors.
- Human beings;
- fauna and flora;
- soil, water, air, climate and landscape;
- material assets and the cultural heritage, and
- the interaction between the above factors.
The assessment is to be undertaken by a competent regulatory authority, having regard to the views of the public and other authorities likely to be affected by the project and to their environmental obligations. The views of other member states must be taken into account in cases with cross-border implications.
The assessment does not require a decision to be made in any particular manner. The authorities may decide that other factors outweigh environmental impact factors. The purpose of the regulation is to bring environmental factors and elements of the project to the fore in the decision-making process.
The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive is directly applicable. To the extent that it is inconsistent with the Irish regulations, it will take precedence over them. The courts are obliged to give effect to the Directives, even if the regulations do not fully implement it.
The EIA requirement applies to projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The EIS must set out the main and significant effects of the proposed project on the environment. It need not necessarily set out all effects. The assessment is to describe the secondary, cumulative, short, medium and long-term, permanent, temporary, positive and negative effects of the project.
In exceptional cases, States may exempt the following wholly or partly
- projects serving national defence purposes;
- projects which were adopted by a specific act of national legislation.
The exemptions must be narrowly interpreted.
The Directive provides that a State may be in exceptional cases, wholly or partly, exempt a project fro the EIA requirement. It must consider whether another form of assessment is appropriate and whether the relevant information should be publicly available. It must inform the EU Commission of the reasons justifying the exemption.
The assessments is required on the occasion of the principal consent in respect of the project. Subsidiary consents such as by agreement of the planning authority or consents requiring further sub-consents will usually require further EIA. Outlining planning permission is not available projects subject to the EIA procedure under Irish law.
An EIA may be required for modifications to the project as approved. Ancillary facilities may require EIA where the facilities are to be provided in an environmentally or socially sensitive location.
The assessment is carried out on the basis of information provided by the developer. The information is to be made available to the public under the procedure. The authority concerned must take account of the information arising and gathered in the course of the procedure.
The relevant effect is that on the environment in the public sense. The fact that there may be a severe impact on particular private properties or amenities does not of itself make the project subject to EIA.
Environmental Impact Statement
The environmental impact statement (EIS) comprises information supplied by the developer or applicant. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a procedure by which the impacts of the proposed development are assessed, taking into account the EIS, other factors and inputs. This includes further information supplied to the authority and comments by members of the public and other bodies.
The EIS is to provide the information set out in the Directive. There is no strict format. It should be readily accessible and comprehensible to the public. The description must be in appropriate terms, in the light of the individual circumstances.
The information must be relevant to the stage of the consent procedure, the specific characteristics of the project and the environmental features to be affected. The applicant is entitled to information from public authorities which hold relevant information for the purpose of preparing the EIS.
The overriding obligation on the applicant is to give information describing the likely significant effects of the project on the environment. The courts will not generally second-guess the sufficiency and adequacy of information in review, provided the statutory provisions are complied with.
The information must be made available to the public in a comprehensible form. The public must be given the opportunity to make observations and express opinions before the development consent is granted.
The developer need not provide information that is unreasonable to require, having regard to current knowledge and methods of assessment. The following minimum information must be provided.
- description of the project including details on the site design and size,
- description of the measures envisaged to avoid, reduce and remedy the significant environmental effects;
- data required to identify and assess the main effects that the project is likely to have on the environment;
- outline of the main alternatives studied by the developer and an indication of the reasons for the choice;
- a non-technical summary of the information set out above.
The Directive does not prescribe exactly how the project is to be described and set out. The statutory requirements must be satisfied. The EPA has published guidelines on the information to be contained in EIS.
Process and Decision
The Directive requires authorities to give an opinion on the information to be supplied by the developer if it is requested before submitting the application. States may permit authorities to give the opinion even if the developer does not request this. The authority is obliged to consult the developer and other authorities to be effected which have relevant environmental responsibilities, before giving its opinion.
Authorities with environmental responsibility who are affected by the project must be consulted in the pre-decision-making consultation an in the decision-making process Other affected States must be given the opportunity to participate, where the project is likely to have effects outside the state.
The decision of the authority must be made public. This includes the decision and the applicable conditions, the principal reasons and a description, where necessary, of the measures required to avoid, reduce and offset the principal adverse effects. The decision of the authority on whether an EIA is required must be made public.
The Directive is not to affect the obligations of authorities in relation to commercial and industrial confidentiality, including intellectual property and safeguarding the public interest.