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Since the introduction of Environment Quality Act in 1974, some 23 related regulations
have been gazetted (including the Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Environmental
Impact Assessment) Order 1987) which have provided a profound regulatory framework in the
shaping of the environmental protection and conservation landscape of Malaysia. This paper
discusses the history of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the current issue of EIA in
Malaysia. The paper also seeking some areas where possible improvement could be considered
to enhance the EIA system and how these processes have transformed the ways industries
managed the environment in order to face up to the challenges in a fast developing country like
Malaysia. The highlight will be in the development of the EIA Order 1987 and its related
guidelines for many industries with special emphasis for the E & P sector. As it is written,
insights into scope and technical requirements of EIA and the approval processes will be
transcribed as the main body of the paper. Experiences gained and benefits of conducting the
EIA in project development and implementation as well as updates on the number of EIA
projects conducted in the E & P sectors will be discussed. Finally, due to recent concerns on
global environment and societal expectations for stakeholder consultation and dialogue,
suggestions are made for the way forwards and proposal for improvements in EIA.


The history of EIA as a legal tool starts in the last day of 1969, when NEPA (National
Environment Policy Act) came into force in USA. Introduced in the US as its beginning, several
countries have followed and applied EIA systems. At the same time, international efforts in
sustainable development have been promoting to assist developing nations. In recent years, the
concept of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is applying EIA consideration in earlier
stage of policy-making, become prevailing and some practical cases are reported. US were the
first country to develop a system of environmental impact assessment (EIA). When “Silent
Spring” written by Rachel Carson was published in 1962, social awareness to environmental
issues in the US had reached high proportions and grew as very intense movements at the latter
half of 1960’s. With these social backgrounds, the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) of
the United States of America (NEPA) was constituted and for the first time, EIA requiring
environmental consideration in large-scale projects was enforced as legislation. The influence of
NEPA in which the concept of EIA system as its bedrock was extended beyond the US and
provoked the introduction of EIA policy in many countries in Europe and Asia. Following the
US initiative, several countries began to provide EIA systems, for example Australia (1974),
Thailand (1975), France (1976), Philippines (1978), Israel (1981) and Pakistan (1983).
Generally, EIA is more efficient and effective to be implemented as early as possible, for
example at the policy or project-planning phase. In practice however, the implementation period
of the EIA, as well as its scope and procedures vary by each country and agency, and each
system holds their own unique characteristic.


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a planning tool. Its main purpose is:
"to give the environment its due place in the decision making process by clearly evaluating the
environmental consequences of a proposed activity before action is taken. The concept has
ramifications in the long run for almost all development activity because sustainable
development depends on protecting the natural resources which is the foundation for further
development" (Gilpin, 1995, P. 3).
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) in the United States requires
that an environmental impact statement (EIS) be prepared on federal actions that have the
potential for significantly affecting the quality of human environment (Canter and Canty, 1993).
The impetus for that law was the recognition of significant environmental problems resulted by
large development activities such as water resource projects, highways and energy facilities.
(Ortolano and Sheperd, 1995).

Elsewhere Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required, in one form or another,

in more than half the nations of the world. However, the procedure and practice vary
considerably in many ways, including climate, ecology, resources, political and administrative
systems, social and cultural systems, and the level and nature of economic development (George,
2000). Many countries after the United States introduced their own EIA systems with detailed
legislation that applies to development projects that are likely to have significant impacts
irrespective of the source of funding (Ortolano and Sheperd, 1995).


In Malaysia, the Environmental Quality Act (1974), a Federal Act was enacted to ensure
prevention, abatement, control of pollution and enhancement of the environment. Under the
provision of the Act, Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) (Environmental Impact
Assessment Order) 1987 was among the subsidiary legislations enacted later in late eighties.
About six years later, the State of Sarawak added another chapter to EIA history in Malaysia
when the State Legislative Assembly amended the Colonial Natural Resources Ordinance, 1949
to include the “environment” to become the present Natural Resources and Environment
Ordinance, 1993. Not too long thereafter, the State of Sabah became the second State in
Malaysia to enact its State law called the Conservation of Environment Enactment, 1996 (Mamit,
1997 and Sentian, 2004). This paper intends to present some review of the EIA systems or
programs in respect to public participation in other countries and in Malaysia. Some account on
successful public participation obtained from publications are included and suggested to be
considered to improve our EIA programs.

a) Current Issue: Whither the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

This discussion had been discuss evaluates the effect of a 20-year-old piece of
environmental regulation. Have we placed undue expectation on the Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) system as an environmental safeguard? That was the over-riding question
posed to participants at a one-day forum to evaluate the effect of that piece of regulation that has
been enforced since 1988. Rightly or wrongly, many have come to rely on the EIA to be the
shield against adverse impacts of development. To a great extent especially for would-be
affected communities, the EIA is deemed their only chance of stopping an undesirable project.
The perception is misplaced, some argue, as the Department of Environment (DOE), the agency
tasked to enforce Section 34A of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 which gave birth to the
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) Environmental Impact Assessment Order 1987
has unwittingly become the Department of Everything, when its power is so limited. Department
of Environment (DOE) Assessment Director, Halimah Hassan admits that Act and its array of
regulations only address pollution from point sources, or better known as “brown issues”, while
development projects often involve more than pollution. Sitting of projects that are incompatible
with sound land use policies like the National Physical Plan resulting in damage to vital
ecosystem and loss of natural resources is one example. DOE officials are ill-equipped to
analyze and quantify damages to biodiversity and ecosystem (green issues) and it relies on the
consultants to produce an honest assessment. Furthermore, natural resources are beyond the
purview of federal laws like the Environmental Quality Act.
Many agencies especially local types of council are passing the buck by asking for EIA
even for non-prescribed activities. There are many safeguards in other approval procedures. For
example, earthwork and erosion control can be monitored by the local authorities. Buffer zoning
is required by the Town and Country Planning Act and dust control is stipulated in any quarry
plan. When the issues that are addressed in other planning submissions are also addressed in the
EIAs, then we are wasting resources. DOE should focus instead at strategic issues at the macro
level that clearly lacks environmental perspectives, he adds, referring to a number of
contradictory national policies – for instance, land clearing in Cameron Highlands for temperate
agriculture as promoted by the National Agriculture Policy and the National Water Resources
Master Plan that calls for the construction of 50 dams. While many agree that EIA is a planning
tool to assist developers to avoid negative impacts on the environment, most concur that project
proponents are more concerned about fulfilling a legal requirement to get the project going.
Maybe that explains why after 20 years, there are still developers who complain that EIA is a
hindrance to development although the approval time has seen significant improvement over the
years. Approval period for preliminary EIA is within five weeks and 12 weeks for detailed
There are much has been done to improve the technical aspects of the process, such as the
publication of sector-specific guidelines and the registration of companies and individuals that
offer EIA-related services to assist project proponents looking for consultancy service. However,
the measure was done on an administrative basis and does not preclude non-registered bodies
from submitting EIA reports. The pool of consultants has grown but like any other profession,
there are bad apples. Poor quality reports have prompted DOE to make it mandatory consultants
to be registered last year and from October 2007, the DOE does not accept EIA reports from
unregistered entities. Another criticism of the system is the lack of public participation. Although
social impact assessment is a component required, it is limited to surveys and not proper
consultation, adding that procedures for public participation are ambiguous in the EIA process.
After 4,000 EIA reports, many feel there’s a need for an overhaul of the system against
the sobering fact that Malaysia is a fast-growing polluting nation in terms of carbon emission,
waste generation and deforestation.

Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has embarked on a progressive
path to improve the social and economic standing of the country and its
citizenry. Steady development and high rates of economic growth combined
to significantly reduce poverty and unemployment levels, as well as address
other socio-economic imbalances. The force behind these early
achievements were laid out under the nation's comprehensive Outline
Perspective Plans, which included detailed Five-Year Malaysia Plans and
strategic policy initiatives that sought to eradicate poverty, restructure
society, sustain growth and maintain national unity. During this period,
Malaysia enacted two landmark legislative initiatives to protect and maintain
the environment. The first deed was the passing of the Environmental
Quality Act 1974 that marked the beginning of the government's
commitment to preventing pollution and degradation of natural resources. In
order to ensure that environmental planning became part of development
projects, the Environmental Impact Assessment was later amended to the
EQA to become a valuable tool to safeguard resources and ameliorate the
negative consequences of development.