Most EIA systems provide for review of the EIA report. However, the procedures established for this purpose differ considerably, possibly more than for other process elements. The conduct of EIA reviews is based on both informal and formal arrangements. Marked variations exist in their particular requirements, forms of public consultation and the roles and responsibilities of lead agencies.
An issue common to all EIA review procedures is how to ensure objectivity. The responsible authority is widely perceived as having a vested interest in the outcome of review, particularly when it is also the proponent. Checks and balances are introduced by guidance and review criteria, and the involvement of the public and outside experts. More â€˜arms lengthâ€™, impartial procedures include the use of inter-agency committees or independent panels or tribunals, which are acknowledged as a â€˜reference standard of good practiceâ€™ for EIA review.
Specific procedures for EIA review that are in place in different countries are shown in the table below. In general, these can be divided into two main types:
- internal review â€“ undertaken by the responsible authority or other government agency, with or without formal guidelines and procedure; and
- external review â€“ undertaken by an independent body, separate from and/or outside government agencies, with an open and transparent procedure for public comment.
In many cases, internal review is informal and characterised by:
- relatively low operating costs;
- discretionary guidance on the conduct of review;
- lack of transparency on process and factors considered; and
- absence of documentation on outcomes and results, e.g. advice tendered to decision-makers.
External review procedures are more formal and characterised by:
- higher levels of quality assurance;
- independence from the responsible authority (to varying degrees);
- transparent and rigorous process;
- use of guidelines and/or review criteria and methodology;
- documented outcome or statement on the sufficiency or deficiency of an EIA report; and
- separate commission, panel, inter-agency or expert committee or other review body.
|Project||Example||Source: Scholten (1997)|
|Independent panel or mediator||Canada (only for major proposals)|
|Standing commission of independent experts||The Netherlands|
|Standing commission of experts within the government||Italy, Poland|
|Planning authority using government guidelines||UK, New Zealand|
Public input is an integral means of reinforcing objectivity and assuring the quality of information presented. Many EIA systems provide an opportunity for public review and comment on the information contained in an EIA report. At a minimum, this requires reasonable time and opportunity for interested parties to comment. More proactive forms of public and stakeholder involvement are preferable, especially when there are significant impacts on a local community or people will be displaced by a proposal. (Further information on public involvement can be found in Section 3 â€“ Public involvement).
A set period for public review and a formal notification procedure are common. The notification usually indicates where the EIA report is displayed and how comments are to be received. Typically, public comments are solicited in writing. However, this approach may exclude many people, including those who are directly affected by the proposal.
Certain countries make provision for a more extended, open review process, using public hearings and other means to gain the views of interested and affected parties on the EIA report. These are usually applied only to large scale and controversial proposals. In other cases less intensive forms of consultation and comment are appropriate. However, in all cases, it is important that these are tailored to the people who are involved.