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Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment

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Published by Gaurav Yadav

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Published by: Gaurav Yadav on Jun 12, 2011
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Environmental impact assessment
An environmental impact assessment is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment, together consisting of thenatural, social and economicaspects.The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impactswhen deciding whether to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment(IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluatingand mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made." EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmentalvalues in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and publiccomments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.EIAs began to be used in the 1960s as part of a rational decision making process. It involved a technicalevaluation that would lead to objective decision making. EIA was made legislation in the US in the NationalEnvironmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969. It has since evolved as it has been used increasingly in manycountries around the world. As per Stephen J (2006) , EIA as it is practiced today, is being used as adecision aiding tool rather than decision making tool. There is growing dissent on the use of EIA as itsinfluence on development decisions is limited and there is a view it is falling short of its full potential. Thereis a need for stronger foundation of EIA practice through training for practitioners, guidance on EIA practice and continuing researchThe International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standard 14011 covers EIA and includes key stepsfor carrying out the assessment. These steps include the scope of EIA. EIAs have often been criticized for having too narrow spatial and temporal scope. At present no procedure has been specified for determining asystem boundary for the assessment. The system boundary refers to ‘the spatial and temporal boundary of the proposal’s effects’. This boundary is determined by the applicant and the lead assessor, but in practice,almost all EIAs address the direct, on-site effects aloneHowever, as well as direct effects, developments cause a multitude of indirect effects through consumptionof goods and services, production of building materials and machinery, additional land use for activities of various manufacturing and industrial services, mining of resources etc . The indirect effects of developmentsare often an order of magnitude higher than the direct effects assessed by EIA. Large proposals such asairports or ship yards cause wide ranging national as well as international environmental effects, whichshould be taken into consideration during the decision-making processBroadening the scope of EIA can also benefit threatened species conservation. Instead of concentrating onthe direct effects of a proposed project on its local environment some EIAs used a landscape approachwhich focused on much broader relationships between the entire population of a species in question. As aresult, an alternative that would cause least amount of negative effects to the population of that species as awhole, rather than the local subpopulation, can be identified and recommended by EIAThere are various methods available to carry out EIAs, some are industry specific and some generalmethods:
Industrial products - Product environmental life cycle analysis (LCA) is used for identifying andmeasuring the impact on the environment of industrial products. These EIAs consider technological
 
activities used for various stages of the product: extraction of raw material for the product and for ancillary materials and equipment, through the production and use of the product, right up to thedisposal of the product, the ancillary equipment and material
Genetically modified plants - There are specific methods available to perform EIAs of geneticallymodified plants. Some of the methods are GMP-RAM, INOVA etc.
Fuzzy Arithmetic - EIA methods need specific parameters and variables to be measured to estimatevalues of impact indicators. However many of the environment impact properties cannot bemeasured on a scale eg landscape quality, lifestyle quality, social acceptance etc. and moreover theseindicators are very subjective. Thus to assess the impacts we may need to take the help of information from similar EIAs, expert criteria, sensitivity of affected population etc. To treat thisinformation, which is generally inaccurate, systematically, fuzzy arithmetic and approximatereasoning methods can be utilised. This is called as a fuzzy logic approachAt the end of the project, an EIA should be followed by an audit. An EIA audit evaluates the performance of an EIA by comparing actual impacts to those that were predicted. The main objective of these audits is tomake future EIAs more valid and effective. The two main considerations are:
scientific - to check the accuracy of predictions and explain errors.
management- to assess the success of mitigation in reducing impacts.Some people believe that audits be performed as a rigorous scientific testing of the null hypotheses. Whilesome believe in a simpler approach where you compare what actually occurred against the predictions in theEIA documentAfter an EIA, the precautionaryandpolluter pays principlesmay be applied to prevent, limit, or require strict liabilityor insurancecoverage to a project, based on its likely harms. Environmental impact assessments are sometimes controversial.
India
TheMinistry of Environment and Forestsof India have been in a great effort in Environmental ImpactAssessment in India. The main laws in nation are Water Act(1974), The IndianWildlife (Protection) Act(1972), The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981) and The Environment (Protection) Act(1986). The responsible body for this is Central Pollution Control Board. Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) studies need a significant amount of primary and secondary environmental data. The primary data arethose which need to be collected in the field to define the status of environment (like air quality data, water quality data etc.). The secondary data are those data which have been collected over the years and can beused to understand the existing environmental scenario of the study area. The environmental impactassessment (EIA) studies are conducted over a short period of time and therefore the understanding theenvironmental trends based on few months of primary data has its own limitations. Ideally, the primary datahas to be considered along with the secondary data for complete understanding of the existingenvironmental status of the area. In many EIA studies, the secondary data needs could be as high as 80% of the total data requirement. EIC is the repository of one stop secondary data source for environmental impactassessment in India.The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) experience in India indicates that the lack of timelyavailability of reliable and authentic environmental data has been a major bottle neck in achieving the full
 
 benefits of EIA. The environment being a multi-disciplinary subject, a multitude of agencies is involved incollection of environmental data. However, there is no single organization in India which tracks the dataavailable amongst these agencies and makes it available in one place, in a form and manner required by practitioners in the field of environmental impact assessment in India. Further, the environmental data is notavailable in value added forms that can enhance the quality of the EIA. This in turn adversely affects thetime and efforts required for conducting the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) by project proponents and also timely environmental clearances by the regulators. With this background,Environmental Information Centre (EIC) has been set up to serve as a professionally managed clearinghouse of environmental information that can be used by MoEF, project proponents, consultants, NGOs andother stakeholders involved in the process of environmental impact assessment in India. EIC caters to theneed of creating and disseminating of organized environmental data for various developmental initiatives allover the country.EIC stores data in GIS format and makes it available to all environmental impact assessment studies and toEIA stakeholders in a cost effective and timely manner.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF)
is the nodal agency in the administrative structure of theCentral Government for the planning, promotion, co-ordination and overseeing the implementation of India's environmental and forestry policies and programmes.The primary concerns of the Ministry are implementation of policies and programmes relating toconservation of the country's natural resources including its lakes and rivers, its biodiversity, forests andwildlife, ensuring the welfare of animals, and the prevention and abatement of pollution. Whileimplementing these policies and programmes, the Ministry is guided by the principle of sustainabledevelopment and enhancement of human well-being.The Ministry also serves as the nodal agency in the country for the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), International Centre for IntegratedMountain Development (ICIMOD) and for the follow-up of the United Nations Conference on Environmentand Development (UNCED). The Ministry is also entrusted with issues relating to multilateral bodies suchas the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), Global Environment Facility (GEF) and of regional bodies like Economic and Social Council for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) and South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) on matters pertaining to the environment.The broad objectives of the Ministry are:
Conservation and survey of flora, fauna, forests and wildlife
Prevention and control of pollution
Afforestation and regeneration of degraded areas
Protection of the environment and
Ensuring the welfare of animalsThese objectives are well supported by a set of legislative and regulatory measures, aimed at the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment. Besides the legislative measures, the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992; National Forest  Policy, 1988;Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution, 1992; and the  National Environment Policy,  2006also guide the Ministry's work.Environmental Information System

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