The responsibility of decision-makers to consider the findings and recommendations of an EIA report varies from one jurisdiction to another. Normally, there are limited qualifications placed on the discretion of the decision-maker to approve or reject a proposal. Depending on the arrangements in place, the decision-maker may have to:
- meet no further requirements;
- take account of information in the EIA report;
- provide written reasons for the decision; or
- act in accordance with recommendations of an EIA review body, unless these are explicitly overturned.
There can be a number of different outcomes from decision-making:
- the proposal can be approved;
- the proposal can be approved with conditions;
- the proposal can be placed on hold pending further investigation;
- the proposal can be returned for revision and resubmission; and
- the proposal can be rejected outright.
A number of checks and balances are built into EIA processes to help ensure accountability and transparency. The procedural controls are important for quality assurance of the information contained in an EIA report. Unless these are in place, the decision-maker may not be in a position to make an informed choice. In addition, leading EIA systems have established conventions and rules for decision-making, which provide a further check on accountability. Some or all of the following rules and conventions for decision-making have been adopted by leading EIA systems (Wood 1995):
- no decision will be taken until the EIA report has been received and considered;
- the findings of the EIA report and review are a major determinant of approval and condition setting;
- public comment on the EIA report is taken into account in decision-making;
- approvals can be refused or withheld, conditions imposed, or modifications demanded at the final decision stage;
- the decision is made by a body other than the proponent;
- reasons for the decision and the conditions attached to it are published, and
- there is a public right of appeal against the decision (where procedures have not been followed or they have been applied unfairly).
The requirement for written reasons for the decision is particularly important. For instance, the US Record of Decision must contain:
- a statement explaining the decision;
- an explanation of alternatives considered and which of these are environmentally preferable;
- the social, economic and environmental factors considered by the agency in making its decision;
- an explanation of the mitigation measures adopted and, if practicable, the mitigation methods that were not adopted, with an explanation of why not; and
- a summary of the monitoring and enforcement programme which must be adopted to ensure that any mitigation measures are implemented (Regulations, Section 1505.2).
Normally, all proposals that are subject to EIA will have conditions attached to their implementation as part of the final approval. The conditions that are set may follow the mitigation and impact management measures proposed in the EIA report or vary them, for example by establishing more stringent requirements. In either case, condition setting is based on impact predictions, which have varying levels of reliability. As far as possible, the level of confidence or range of uncertainty that is attached to the information should be specified so decision-makers understand the limitations on condition setting.
Other topics in the course module consider the means for implementation of the approved conditions (see Section 7 â€“ Mitigation and impact assessment and Section 11 â€“ Implementation and follow up). These include:
- establishing performance standards for meeting the conditions, preferably as part of a legally binding contract with the proponent;
- requiring the proponent to prepare (or revise) an environmental management plan (EMP) to incorporate these standards and translate the approved conditions into a schedule of actions;
- incorporating environmental management systems (EMS) to ISO 14000 standards into the EMP; and
- enforcing compliance with the conditions of approval and performance standards, with penalties for unwarranted breaches.