There are a number of steps can help to achieve good practice in the review of EIA reports. First you need to establish a framework for the EIA review, including the following steps (and will be covered in more detail on this page):
- set the scale/depth of the review;
- select reviewer(s);
- use input from public involvement; and
- identify review criteria and aspects to be considered.
Once you have established this framework for review, you will then need to undertake and report the review, which involves the following steps (and will be covered in more detail on the next page);
- carrying out the review;
- determine how to remedy any deficiencies; and
- report the findings.
Setting the scale
Two questions should be addressed at the start of a review:
- How much time is available to carry out the review?
- Are the necessary resources available for this purpose?
The answers to these questions will depend mainly on the provision made for review within the EIA system and the Terms of Reference. The nature of the proposal will determine the speed and intensity of the review. More controversial projects, or those with more significant effects, typically require more detailed review. The choice ranges from a quick overview by one person to an in-depth review by a team of experts assembled to do the job.
The environmental issues and the technical aspects of the proposal will determine the expertise required by a review team or individual. For example, the review of an EIA report for a proposal for a solid waste disposal site might include a landfill engineer, a hydro-geologist and an environmental remediation specialist. Depending on the scale of review, administrative support and technical backup may be necessary.
Using input from public comment
Experience with EIA review in a number of countries has shown that public comment is a critical ingredient of good practice. The input from the public has proved to be important in checking and evaluating the quality of the EIA report; for example, with regard to the description of the affected environment and community, the attribution of significance of residual impacts, the effectiveness of mitigation measures and the selection of an alternative.
Input may come from a public hearing, or from written comments submitted to the proponent or government department. From a hearing there will often be a summary of issues provided by the panel or officers responsible for hearing the submissions. With written comments a summary of key points will be needed to guide the review of the EIA. In both cases the summary should focus on information that helps to identify problems with the EIA, contributing to the assessment of impacts, and identifying ways to reduce impacts.
While it is useful to gauge the strength of public concern about particular issues (such as support for an alternative) the consultation process should not be seen as an opportunity for people to â€˜voteâ€™ on any one issue.
Identifying the review criteria
A systematic review will be based on specified criteria. These criteria can be identified by reference to the following questions:
Are terms of reference or other guidelines available for the review?
If not, the first task of the review is to quickly re-scope the main issues and impacts to be addressed in the EIA report. This can be done with the help of scoping methods (see Section 5 â€“ Scoping).
Are any reviews of EIA reports of comparable proposals in similar settings available?
EIA reports and reviews of comparable proposals in similar settings provide useful points of reference to check the type of impacts that are considered significant and the information that is necessary for decision-making. These can be from the country concerned or elsewhere. It is particularly useful to learn about problems experienced during the implementation and operation of the projects. These can give insights to the nature of impacts that are likely to occur during implementation and operation.
Which generic review criteria may be useful?
Generic criteria that may help to carry out an EIA review include:
- legal EIA requirements (if any);
- relevant environmental standards, guidelines or criteria;
- principles of EIA good practice; and
- knowledge of the project and its typical impacts and their mitigation.
When is a comprehensive review appropriate?
A comprehensive review of the quality of an EIA report may be necessary in certain circumstances, for example when there are serious deficiencies in the information assembled. This involves a review of the conduct of the EIA process. Some or all of the elements and aspects that may require consideration include:
- performance of scoping;
- accuracy of impact prediction;
- criteria used to evaluate significance;
- comparison of alternatives;
- effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures;
- requirements for monitoring and impact management; and
- modes of public and stakeholder involvement.
In other cases, particular attention could be directed to the executive summary, which is intended to explain the key findings concisely and in a non-technical manner. This is the only part of the EIA report that decision-makers and the public are likely to read. A review can indicate if the information contained in the main body of the report has been communicated simply and accurately.
(Further information on methods for EIA review is given in the next section. A set of criteria to review the quality of EIA reports and the overall process are provided at Review Framework in the EIA Wiki.)