The last fifteen years have seen a remarkable expansion in the provisions made, or envisaged, for the environmental impact assessment of environmentally sensitive projects (see, for example, Lee et al. 1985). Through a variety of laws, application decrees and non-mandatory provisions, EIA procedures have been inserted into the planning and decision-making arrangements for such projects in many countries and international organizations.
This is a considerable achievement, particularly given the difficult economic conditions which prevail. Having accomplished it, there is a natural tendency to assume that ‘the main job has been done’ and that the smooth and efficient implementation of environmental impact assessment will follow automatically. However, this is unlikely to be the case unless adequate prior provision is made to raise the knowledge, understanding and technical capabilities of those likely to be engaged in the EIA process. Thorough, objective evaluations of practice, in the early years following EIA implementation in particular countries, are few and far between. However, one such study has revealed that, though the potential benefits from using EIA are considerable, the extent to which these are realized in the early years may be limited by ‘teething problems’ traceable to those engaged in particular activities and tasks within the EIA process having insufficient experience and expertise (Council on Environmental Quality 1976).
The potential benefits from EIA implementation are considerable. They include more effective compliance with environmental standards; improvements in the design and siting of plant; savings in capital and operating costs; speedier approval of development applications; and the avoidance of costly adaptations to plants once in operation (Cook 1979, Dean 1979, Canter 1983). However, these benefits may not be fully realized for a variety of reasons which include incomplete understanding of environmental relationships and gaps in basic environmental data; delays resulting from weaknesses in the management of the EIA process; the production of overlong and poorly organized EIA study reports; inadequate organization and use of the consultation process; and unsatisfactory handling of the EIA within the decision-making process.