Two Bills Threaten to Draw the Teeth of Environmental Impact Assessments

Cape Times (South Africa), March 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

Two Bills Threaten to Draw the Teeth of Environmental Impact Assessments


BYLINE: Jan Glazewski

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) process is in the spotlight again as Parliament considers amendments to two bills.

EIA is the most concrete tool we have in law to give effect to the rather nebulous right to a decent and healthy environment in our constitution. The process was developed as the principal way to ensure the environment in its broadest sense was properly considered in planning and decision-making.

The main objective of EIA is to promote sustainable development, by integrating consideration of the need to maintain ecological integrity, for economic development, and to promote social equity, particularly the alleviation of poverty.

The logical and mandated department to administer and approve the EIA process is the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as well as the respective provincial environmental departments to which national powers have been delegated in this regard.

First under consideration is an amendment to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, administered by the Department of Minerals and Energy, which bluntly states that "the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998, relating to environmental authorisations and any other related matters, shall not apply to activities of holders regulated in terms of this Act".

The Mineral Act goes on to provide its own regime for EIA and, most importantly, provides that the minerals department, and not the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, will administer the EIA process as far as mining operations are concerned.

It will grant environmental authorisations for mining and prospecting activities.

This is akin to the wolf guarding the henhouse, but is not a new phenomenon in South Africa.

When the EIA process was first given legislative effect in 1997, "mining" was listed as an activity which would be subject to EIA under the administration of the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the draft regulations published for comment. …

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