Environmental Impact Assessment: Theory and Practice

By Peter Wathern | Go to book overview

1

An introductory guide to EIA

P.WATHERN

In the sixteen years since its inception, environmental impact analysis (EIA), a procedure for assessing the environmental implications of a decision to enact legislation, to implement policies and plans, or to initiate development projects, has become a widely accepted tool in environmental management. EIA has been adopted in many countries with different degrees of enthusiasm where it has evolved to varying levels of sophistication.

In the United States, EIA required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) has given a federal dimension to land-use planning which existed in only rudimentary form prior to 1970 and has created a situation where decisions on major federal activities can only be taken with foreknowledge of their likely environmental consequences. The influence of these federal measures can be gauged from the rapidity with which they have been echoed in state and local statutes. A host of other industrialized countries have since implemented EIA procedures. Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Japan, for example, adopted legislation in 1973, 1974, 1981 and 1984 respectively, while in July 1985 the European Community (EC) finally adopted a directive making environmental assessments mandatory for certain categories of projects after nearly a decade of deliberation.

Countries in the developed world have not been alone in realizing the potential of EIA. Many less developed countries (LDCs) have been quick to appreciate that the procedures offer a means of introducing some aspects of environmental planning, often in the absence of any formal land-use planning control system. Colombia became the first Latin American country to institute a system of EIA when procedures were adopted in 1974: In Asia and the Pacific region, Thailand and the Philippines now have long-established procedures for EIA. There is a dearth of information on the general situation in Africa, although a number of nations including Rwanda, Botswana and the Sudan have experience of EIA (Klennert 1984).

In the centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe, it is increasingly realized that EIA should be an integral component of state planning, although Marxist theory places another perspective on the interrelationships between development and the environment. Hungary has made the consideration of environmental issues one of the elements upon which investment decisions are based and Poland has initiated studies on the application of EIA which will probably lead to its formal adoption.

Bilateral and multilateral agencies have also become interested in the potential

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