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Last Update: 6 December 2017 Part I

M 166

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Q. Define Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). What are the purpose of the environmental
assessment? What are the the key elements of an EIA?
With the growing awareness about the changing environmental systems the need of preservation of a pollution-free
environment has always been felt. Actually the awareness and consensus about the preservation of the
environment started developing from the 1950's i.e. almost immediately after the World War II under which
people of the different parts of the world suffered severely due to extensive environmental degradation.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can be defined as:

1. The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other
relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments
made. (IAIA 1999). The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision-makers consider
environmental impacts before deciding whether to proceed with new projects.
2. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a formal process used to predict the environmental
consequences of any development project. EIA thus ensures that the potential problems are foreseen
and addressed at an early stage in the projects planning and design.
Why EIAs?
EIAs have two roles - legal and educational.
The legal one is quite straight forward: to ensure that development projects such as a housing estate,
a road/bridge or some such construction project has a minimal impact on the environment in its
entire 'lifecycle' - i.e. during design, construction, use, maintenance, and demolition. Many countries
now have laws stipulating that unless an EIA study is carried out (particularly for large infrastructure
projects), permission for construction will not be granted by the local authority. But countries in
Africa will possibly see EIA processes as a 'hinderance' to development as environment is not yet a
The educational one is equally important and probably a forerunner to the legal role - to educate
everyone one involved - professionals and users included, of the potential environmental impacts of
anything we do. we need to look at all our daily actions as eventually and cumulatively affecting the
environment. This includes our daily choices, where a delicate balance between financial and
environmental considerations need to be made automatically - without thinking!
Different Type of Impact Assessments
Health Impact Assessment
Climate Impact Assessment
Project Evaluation
Demographic Impact Assessment
Public Consultation
Development Impact Assessment
Public Participation
Ecological Impact Assessment
Risk Assessment
Economic and Fiscal Impact Assessment
Social Impact Assessment
Environmental Auditing
Strategic Impact Assessment
Environmental Impact Assessment
Technology Assessment
Environmental Management Sysytems
The purpose of the environmental assessment process is: (a) to support the goals of environmental
protection and sustainable development. (b) to integrate environmental protection and economic decisions at
the earliest stages of planning an activity. (c) to predict environmental, social, economic, and cultural
consequences of a proposed activity and to assess plans to mitigate any adverse impacts resulting from the
proposed activity, and (d) to provide for the involvement of the public, department of the Government and
Government agencies in the review of the proposed activities.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool used to identify the environmental, social and
economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early
stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit
the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both
environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project
implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.

The key elements of an EIA are (a) Scoping: identify key issues and concerns of interested parties; (b)
Screening: decide whether an EIA is required based on information collected; (c) Identifying and evaluating
alternatives: list alternative sites and techniques and the impacts of each; (d) Mitigating measures dealing
with uncertainty: review proposed action to prevent or minimise the potential adverse effects of the project;
and (e) Issuing environmental statements: report the findings of the EIA.

What is Environmental Impact Assessment ?

Progress of civilization continues with the progress of developments of different kinds, may it be mining,
construction of factories, construction of hydel or thermal power projects, urban complexes, airports or
anything that initially and also in the long run cause some detrimental impacts upon the environment and the
natural ecosystem of an area. When a new project or development is planned which might affect environmental
quality an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required. Since the passage of the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of the United States of America in 1969 which incorporated a requirement for
assessing the environmental impact of 'major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human
environment ', the concept of environmental impact has spread throughout many countries. Some countries have
introduced specific legislation, setting out formal requirements for environmental assessment (EA), while other
countries with well-established land-use planning procedures responded initially by adapting existing
environmental and planning legislation to place greater emphasis on the assessment of environmental impacts or

The formal approach of EIA is one in which :

EIA procedures are defined by statute with guidance as to when these are to be applied, and how;
EIS (or environmental reports [ER]) are prepared for specified development projects;
All levels of government and all public agencies must take environmental assessment (EA) into account during
decision making;
The public is consulted and encouraged through meetings , hearings, and public inquiries to participate actively
in the decision-making process;
Avenues for appeal against official decisions and against apparent irregularities in administration and the
process of decision-making exist, allowing administrative and judicial review and dispute resolution.

Aspects of EIA
There are three major aspects of EIA as follows, a) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), b) Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS), and c) Environmental Inventory (EI).
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an activity designed to identify and predict the impact on the
biogeographical environment and on human health of legislative proposals, policies, programmes, projects and
operational procedures and to interpret and communicate information about the impacts.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a public document written in a format specified by
authorized national, state and/or local agencies.
An Environmental Inventory (EI) is a description of the environment, as it exists in an area where a
particular proposed action is being considered.
Historical Perspectives of EIA
EIA of major developments were undertaken as a early as 1950's particularly in North America, Europe and
Japan. The main objective was to ensure that public safety and health were adequately protected. Separate
documents were submitted to each of the regulatory agencies involved (e.g. water authority, air pollution control
branch etc.) and no attempt was made to prepare a comprehensive overview. In the case of an EIA for a dam
calculations were undertaken to ensure that the structure could withstand major floods, based on return periods of
precipitation and runoff extremes. Similarly chimneys were designed on the basis of atmospheric diffusion models
to ensure that ground level concentrations of the pollutants would not exceed air quality standards. The appropriate
regulatory bodies reviewed these analyses. In the case of the nuclear energy industry, detailed field investigations
were also required before an operating permit would be authorized.
The environmental movements of the 1960s, pioneered by the people like Rachel Carson, Barbara Ward and
Barry Commoner, resulted in environmental groups becoming politically active in many countries. As a partial
response to these pressure groups governments accepted the principle that citizens' organizations should have an
opportunity of participate in the decision-making process of those major developments, which could have
significant environmental impacts.

The comprehensive environmental legislation in U. S. A. the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
came into force in January 1970. In Canada the government established an Environmental Assessment and
Review Process in 1973. The need of carrying out an environmental impact assessment has been accepted in
many other jurisdictions including most of the provinces in U.S.A., Canada, Japan, Australia and several
European countries.
From 1970s the emphasis of EIA was on measurable physical factors, particularly those for which
there were standards and codes, e.g., air quality, water quality, solid waste disposal etc. After a few years
EIAs began to include biological and ecological factors. More recently, EIAs were broadened even further
to include socio-economic factors (employment opportunities, cultural impacts, recreational impacts etc.).
The EIA system has been welcomed in principle by may scientists, engineers, citizen's groups and
The role of EIA in society
The role of EIA in society may be assessed as follows:
1) It provides a procedure for the full consideration of the possible adverse environmental impacts of
policies, programmes, activities and projects before any decision to proceed; it precludes 'behind
close doors' decision making in the public and private sectors;
2) There is opportunity to present recommendations to the decision-maker of the suitability of the
policy, programme (groups of projects, either sequential or concurrent) activity or project, to
proceed or not, on environmental grounds;
3) For proposals which proceed, there is the opportunity to present the incorporation of conditions of
consent that should mitigate some of the adverse environmental effects;
4) It is an avenue for the public to contribute to the decision making process, through written and
oral contribution to the decision makers appearance at public enquiries and hearing and possible
participation in mediation processes;
5) The whole process of development is open to scrutiny for the benefit of all the key players
proponent - government and public, resulting in better projects more carefully thought out;
6) Basically unsatisfactory projects (including otherwise satisfactory projects on the wrong sites)
tend to weed themselves out before advancing far into the EIA process and certainly before
reaching a public inquiry stage;
7) Condition of approval may ensure monitoring, annual reporting by the proponent, post-project
analysis (PPA) and independent auditing;
8) Alternative approaches, mixes of technology, and sites can be thoroughly examined;
9) EIA is seen, however, as t he servant of development: promoting better developments, at best, but
basically supporting economic growth,
10) The process endorses waste discharges, the emission of greenhouse gases in many, cases a
profligate use, mining, extraction and processing of natural resources;
11) The whole process as a creature of government is subject to political pressures: key players within
government have no security of employment whatever;
12) Officers of integrity have little chance when confronted by a combination of hostile interests at a
political level;
13) On the other hand, a vigilant public, skilled objectors and organizations with a range of legal
rights to object, access to the courts, and a supportive media with some political sympathy, can
exercise countervailing power and influence.

Major factors considered in the Environmental Impact Assessment Process

The first step in the EIA process is to determine whether a project falls within the relevant act of regulations
and whether the development is likely to create significant environmental disruption. If so, an assessment is
undertaken, leading to the preparation of an EIS is open to public scrutiny and may be reviewed at public
hearings. Eventually a decision is made at the political level as to whether to i) accept the development, ii)
accept an amended form of the proposed development, iii) accept an alternative proposal or iv) reject the
The following table gives the list of development projects that should require an Environmental
Impact Assessment:
Type of Project Example
1. Landuse and transformation Urban, industrial, agricultural, airport, transportation, transmission
2. Resource extraction Drilling, mining, blasting, lumbering, commercial fishing and
3. Resource Renewal Reforestation, wildlife management, waste recycling, flood
4. Agricultural Processes Farming, Ranching, Dairying, Irrigation
5. Industrial Processes Iron and steel plants, petrochemical industries, smelters, paper
6. Transportation Railways, aircraft, automobiles, shipping, pipelines
7. Energy Dams, oil exploration, refining and transmission, thermal and
nuclear power stations

8. Waste disposal and treatment Ocean dumping, landfill, contaminants and toxic substances,
underground storage
9, Chemical treatment Insecticides, herbicides
10. Recreation Hunting areas, parks, resort development, vehicles

Participants in the EIA Process

Various participants in the EIA process should be clearly identified. Following is the list of those that are
normally involved :
Participants Description
Design Maker A head of state, a group of ministers, an elected body, a
single designated individual

Assessor The person, agency or company having responsibility for

preparing the EIS
Proponent A government agency or private farm wishing to initiate the

Reviewer The person, agency or board with responsibility for

reviewing the EIS and assuring
Other agencies or Government Agencies with a special interest in the project

Public at large Citizens and the media

Special Interest Groups Environmental organizations, labour unions, professional
societies and local association
Design of an Environmental Impact Assessment
A wide variety of approaches to EIA is available. The following is a practical list of questions to consider in
the design of an EIA
Project design and construction
What type of project is being considered ?
What are the physical dimensions of the area under consideration ?
How much time will be required to implement the project 9
Is there an irretrievable commitment of land ?
Is the project a critical phase of a larger development ?
What are the longer-term plans of the proponent ?
Does the project make optimal use of local workers ?
Will there be serious environmental disruptions during the construction

Project operations
How will hazardous wastes and waste products be handled ?
What provisions have been made for training employees in the environmental protection ?
How contingency plans have been developed to cope with accidents ?
What plans have been made for environmental monitoring ?
What safety equipment be checked regularly ?
Site characteristics
Is the terrain complex creating problems in predicting ground water characteristics, air pollution,
transport etc. ? a Is the site likely to be particularly susceptible to natural disasters, e.g.,floods or
earthquakes ?
Will many people be displaced by the project ?
Will historic sites or traditional thoroughfares be endangered ?
Will the project interfere with the movements of important migratory animal and fish population ? a
What are the main attributes of local flora and fauna ? a Is the local environment unsuitable for the
project to be complete success.
Possible Impacts
For this class of project what are the possible impacts on the environment ? During construction? After
construction ? Long term ? Who would be affected by these impacts ?
Socio-economic Analysis
Who will gain and who will lose by the project ?
What are the trade-off ?
Will the project reduce inequalities between inequalities between occupational, ethnic, sex and age groups?
Will it blend or enhance valuable elements and patterns in the local, national or regional culture?
Could the project proposal be modified to reduce the environmental impacts ?
Is an alternative possible ? i.e. the same project at a different site? A different project at the same site?)

The need of EIAs at the International level

Today the need of EIAs has been felt distinctly at the international level. It is due to the fact that allcountries jointly or
individually share the global environment. Some actions may cause environmental impacts in more than one
jurisdiction or country or in international waters. Examples are the discharge of industrial and municipal wastes
into rivers that border or pass through several countries, the long range acid rain problem, food import and export,
the global C02, climatic warming, desertification, the environmental management of Antarctica and the
Stratospheric Ozone problem.
Many existing international EIAs are interesting treating, but have had little impact on decision makers
because of a lack of forces or a lack of understanding of the ways in which international consensus is
achieved. In particular the parties are rarely identified and benefits and disadvantages are rarely compared.
A special problem is that there frequently is no single decision maker. Finally, environmental standards may
not be uniform across the various jurisdictions involved.
The scientific problems are equally interactable particularly on the global scale. Questions of risk need to be
examined in special ways in an international context. Some of the outcomes (e.g. C02 induced climatic
warming and stratospheric ozone depletion) are very uncertain. Yet if no action is taken within a particular
time period, it may be too late to prevent an irreversible trend. There is thus a need for frameworks for
intergovernmental EIAs, including the development of guidelines for research priorities.

Environment Impact Assessment in India

In India the department of Environment (Govt, of India) is responsible for promoting EIA principles and has
been involved with the assessment of major industrial projects, thermal power, hydro power, river basin
development, and mining. Environmental implications are considered in the formulation of all new
development projects, often with statutory authorities and major departments, which are directly involved.
The views of general public and those of environmental organizations are heeded. In some cases special
expert committees might be set up to explore, in greater detail, the environmental aspects of a project.

The Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project became the subject of much controversy in the early 1980s. The
southern state of Kerala had proposed to develop a part of the silent valley, a densely forested area to
increase electricity production in the state. This was made with great opposition from both environmentalists
and the general public. The central government intervened and the project was stopped on environmental
Another major involvement has been the water resources development programme of the Narmada basin;
the river Narmada rises at Amarkantak in M.P. flowing 1300 km west to the Arabian Sea, its catchments
embracing three states. The water development programme plans eventually to construct 29 major (several
smaller) projects to utilized vast amount of energy for irrigation and power, as well as to deliver water for
domestic and industrial purposes. EIAs have been done over the catchments area, the dam environs,
submergence areas, and downstream river areas, the implications for resettlements and rehabilitation, and
how to achieve these. In spite of widespread agitation and protests staged by renowned environmentalists
(e.g. Medha Patekar) the project has clearance from the government and the work is now in progress.
Various recommendations have emerged about soil and moisture conservation measures, such as terracing,
check dams, and grassland improvement; conservation, improvement of existing natural forests and
plantations, and soil conservation; and the encouragement of public participation in the planning phase.
The World Bank was, for a time heavily involved in this project. In 1993 the India Govt, cancelled
the proposed World Bank loan unhappy, at least in part, with the banks, exacting environmental and
resettlement standards. The project itself, however, is still to proceed.

The main objective of an EIA is the reconciliation of environmental and socio-economic considerations
with respect to development. According the EIA system is a potentially useful component of good
environmental management; however, it is far from perfect. Some of the criticisms are as follows: 1) the
EIA system delays projects, 2) the preparation of EIS is costly, 3) the predictions of EIS are too uncertain,
4) the EIS is a glossy document written to impress or educate citizens, groups, 5) the EIS is prepared too
quickly and is not subject to review. In spite of all these shortcoming the EIA has been accepted mandatory