New EU EIA directive will bring mandatory assessment of alternatives

What is an EIA?

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) entails the systematic collection and analysis of information about the environmental effects of a proposed project by the developer. It enables the competent authority to decide if and how the project should be carried out and, more importantly, gives the public a chance to evaluate and comment on the Environmental impacts and whether there are reasonable alternatives to what is proposed. The directive is aimed at ensuring a high level of protection of the environment and human health through the establishment of common minimum requirements for the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. The EIA directive  began life 25 years ago, and so needs to be continuously adapted to reflect the experience gained, changes in EU legislation and policy, and European Court of Justice case law outcomes.

 What’s changed?

The amendments applied will adapt the current directive to changes that have taken place in policy, legal and technical contexts over the recent past.

We’re delighted to note that

  1. the quality of the environmental impact assessments procedure itself  has been strengthened. It is now more in tune with the principles of smart regulation.
  2. the new directive is now more consistent with other EU legislation and current EU policies
  3. the amended directive shares synergies with strategies and policies developed by member states in areas of national competence.
  4. one of the new elements incorporated into the EIA procedure is a mandatory assessment of reasonable alternatives studied by the developer and
  5. the directive now  has a  broader scope, as the EIA will cover new issues, and more detailed provisions on screening.
  6. it adds provisions for ensuring a high level of protection of the marine environment
  7.  it will allow the public to access environmental  information more easily and effectively.
  8. it considers the vulnerability (exposure and resilience) to major accidents and/or disasters by the projects

We hope the amendments will make the EIA experience a shorter, more effective and cheaper process which reveals significant information that expedites the decision-making process.

When is it effective?

That’s a tricky question because it depends on National Governments to incorporate into national law. As we have seen in Ireland with the Aarhus and Stockholm Conventions, this is not quick. Let’s hope that we don’t see fines coming our way for lateness of action. So while the directive will enter into force on the twentieth day following its publication in the Official Journal of the EU, (i.e. mid-May) the member states will have three years to incorporate it into national legislation. So let’s hope that long before April 2017 we will be better protected.

The timeline to EIA modifications.

Adopted 25 years ago, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (known as the EIA Directive) needs to be adapted to reflect the experience gained as well as changes in EU legislation and policy, and European Court of Justice case law.

In July 2009, the Commission published a report on the application and effectiveness of the EIA Directive(COM(2009)378). The report outlined the strengths of the EIA Directive, highlighted the main areas where improvements were  needed and provided recommendations, where relevant.

In June 2010, the Commission launched a wide public consultation. The consultation covers a broad variety of issues. More information on the public consultation can be found under the following webpage.

The phase of public consultation was concluded by a Conference for the 25th anniversary of the EIA Directive. The findings of the public consultation and the conclusions of the Conference have fed into the Commission’s review process of the EIA Directive.

The Commission proposal

As a result of the review process, on 26 October 2012 the Commission adopted a proposal for a new Directive that would amend the current EIA Directive.

The details : On 14th April 2014, the Council adopted a directive amending directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (PE-COS 15/14, 7927/14 ADD 1).

Read the full text of the EIA modifications adopted.

Read the current EIA transposition into Irish law reference.