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European Commission releases proposals to amend the EIA Directive

The European Commission released its proposals to amend the EIA Directive on 26 October 2012. It follows a consultation that took place in 2010, and the perception that the EIA Directive is in need of a comprehensive overhaul following 25 years of application. The proposals, which are available here, will make a number of key changes to impact assessments if they are adopted by the European Parliament and Council. The changes will affect all stages of the EIA process.

The Commission has described the main proposed changes as follows:

“It is proposed to clarify the screening procedure, by modifying the criteria of Annex III and specifying the content and justification of screening decisions. These amendments would ensure that EIAs are carried out only for projects that would have significant environmental effects, avoiding unnecessary administrative burden for small-scale projects.

As regards the quality and analysis of the EIA, it is proposed to introduce amendments to reinforce the quality of the process (i.e. mandatory scoping and quality control of EIA information), specify the content of the EIA report (mandatory assessment of reasonable alternatives, justification of final decisions, mandatory post-EIA monitoring of significant adverse effects) and adapt the EIA to challenges (i.e. biodiversity, climate change, disaster risks, availability of natural resources).

As regards the risks of inconsistencies, it is proposed to specify the time-frames for the main stages required by the Directive (public consultation, screening decision, final EIA decision) and introduce a mechanism, a kind of EIA one-stop shop to ensure coordination or joint operation of the EIA with the environmental assessments required under other relevant EU legislation, e.g. Directives 2010/75/EU, 92/43/EEC, 2001/42/EC.”

There are two proposals that could prove particularly significant. The first is the shift away from the current process of the developer explaining the proposed project only in comparison to the main alternatives it has considered. The process would instead, as part of the mandatory scoping for impact assessments that would also be introduced, involve the competent authority (and not the developer) determining the “reasonable alternatives relevant to the proposed project and its specific characteristics”.

The second is the introduction of a so called “one-stop shop” which has its aim the coordination of EIA with other environmental assessments required under other relevant EU legislation such as habitats, industrial emissions and SEA. Under the proposed joint procedures, Member States would be required to appoint one authority with responsibility for facilitating the development consent procedure for each project.

The Commission states that it expects the proposals to come into force in March 2014, depending on the progress of the legislative process. This no doubt will prove to be an overly optimistic target.