Environmental Impact Assessments

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a key instrument of European Union environmental policy. Since passage of the first EIA Directive in 1985 (Directive 85/337/EEC) both the law and the practice of EIA has evolved. An amending Directive was published in 1997 (Directive 97/11/EC). The European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 93 of 1999) transposed EU Directive 97/11/EC into Irish law. The primary objective of the EIA Directive is to ensure that projects, which are likely to have significant effects on the environment are subject to an assessment of their likely impacts.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process for anticipating the effects on the environment caused by a development. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the document produced as a result of that process.

There are 3 specific stages in the EIA process:

1. Screening: This stage establishes if an EIS will need to be prepared. The EIA regulations, together with other environmental criteria, set out the thresholds or sizes of certain classes of projects, which indicate if an EIS must be prepared. In addition to these thresholds, the competent authority can also require an EIA where a project is below the specified threshold. This usually arises where there is a likelihood of significant effects on the environment by reference to the nature or location of a project.

2. Scoping: Scoping identifies the issues and emphasis that are likely to be important during EIA and eliminates those that are not. During this phase, consultation with the competent authority, relevant Government departments, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local authorities, fisheries boards, non-governmental organisations, landowners, locals and other interested parties.

3. EIS Review: The EIS should be systematically organised to provide sections describing:

• The Proposed Development
• The Existing Environment
• The Impacts of the Proposed Development
• The Measures to Mitigate Adverse Impacts
• A Non-Technical Summary

The existing environment and the impacts of the development are explained by reference to the possible impacts on a series of environmental topics:

• Human Beings
• Fauna and Flora
• Soil
• Water
• Air
• Climatic Factors
• Landscape
• Material Assets including the Architectural and Archaeological Heritage and Cultural Heritage
• The Inter-Relationship between all of the above.