The scope of public involvement and its relationship to the EIA process should be commensurate with the significance of the environmental and social impacts for local people. Ideally, public involvement should commence during the preparatory stage of project development and continue throughout the EIA process. This is particularly important for major projects that affect peopleâ€™s livelihood and culture. Five main steps at which public involvement can occur in the EIA process are discussed below.
For certain categories of proposal, the responsible authority may consult with people likely to be affected in order to gain a better understanding of the nature and significance of the likely impacts. This information can assist in determining if an EIA is required and at what level (see Section 4 â€“ Screening). In addition, the early identification of affected parties and their concerns provides information that can be incorporated into the scoping stage of EIA and assists future planning for public involvement.
Public involvement is commonly undertaken at the scoping stage. This is critical to ensure that all the significant issues are identified, local information about the project area is gathered, and alternative ways of achieving the project objectives are considered. Terms of Reference for an EIA provide a means of responding to and checking against these inputs (see Section 5 â€“ Scoping). They should also outline any specific requirements for public involvement in EIA preparation, review, and follow up.
Impact analysis and mitigation
The further involvement of the public in these phases of EIA preparation (see Section 6 â€“ Impact Analysis and 7â€“ Mitigation and Impact Management) can help to:
- avoid biases and inaccuracies in analysis;
- identify local values and preferences;
- assist in the consideration of mitigation measures; and
- select a best practicable alternative.
Review of EIA quality
A major opportunity for public involvement occurs when EIA reports are exhibited for comment (see Section 8 â€“ Reporting and 9 â€“ Review of EIA Quality). However, making written comments is daunting to all but the educated and literate. Other means of achieving responses should be provided where proposals are controversial. Public hearings or meetings may be held as part of EIA review. They can be formal or informal but should be structured in a way which best allows those affected to have their say. Many people are not comfortable in speaking in public and other or additional mechanisms may be needed.
Implementation and follow up
The environmental impacts of major projects will be monitored during construction and operational start up, with corrective action taken where necessary (see Section 11 â€“ Implementation and Follow-up). Local representatives should scrutinise and participate in the follow up process. This arrangement can assist proponents and approval agencies to respond to problems as they arise. It can also help to promote good relations with local communities that are affected by a development.
Public involvement in practice
In many EIA systems, public involvement centres on the scoping and review stages. This can be a response to procedural requirements or reflect accepted practice. More extended forms of public involvement occur when:
- proposals are formally referred to public review, hearings or inquiries;
- proposals seek to apply a â€˜best practiceâ€™ process to their proposal;
- proposals depend upon gaining the consent or support of local stakeholders; and
- proposals have major social impacts and consequences, such as the relocation of displaced people.