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Assessment of the environmental impact of projects

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The European Union requires an environmental impact assessment to be carried out before approval can be granted for certain public and private projects. The Directive lists the projects concerned, the information to be provided and the third parties to be consulted in connection with approving such a project.

ACT

Council Directive 85/337/EEC of 27 June 1985 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment [See amending acts]

SUMMARY

The Directive, known as the "EIA" (environmental impact assessment) Directive, requires an assessment to be carried out by the competent national authority for certain projects which have a physical effect on the environment.

The environmental impact assessment must identify the direct and indirect effects of a project on the following factors: man, the fauna, the flora, the soil, water, air, the climate, the landscape, the material assets and cultural heritage, and the interaction between these various elements.

Projects concerned

The projects may be proposed by a public or private person.

An assessment is obligatory for certain projects. These include:

  • dangerous industrial facilities such as oil refineries, nuclear fuel or nuclear waste treatment facilities, integrated chemical installations;
  • power stations of more than 300 megawatts or nuclear power stations;
  • transport infrastructure such as railways, airports, motorways, inland waterways and ports when the infrastructure exceeds certain specific thresholds;
  • waste and water treatment facilities;
  • large mining facilities (large quarries, large gas or oil rigs);
  • water transport or storage facilities, and dams;
  • installations for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs which exceed certain specific thresholds.

Other projects are not automatically assessed: Member States can decide to subject them to assessment on a case-by-case basis or according to thresholds, certain criteria (for example size), location (sensitive ecological areas in particular) and potential impact (surface affected, duration). This particularly concerns projects in the following fields:

  • agriculture, forestry and aquaculture (for example agricultural irrigation projects or intensive fish-farming);
  • the mining industry (underground mining, deep drillings, etc.);
  • industrial facilities for generating, transporting and storing electricity;
  • the production and processing of metals (cast iron or steel, shipyards, etc.);
  • the mineral industry (distillation of coal, cement production, etc.);
  • the chemical industry (production of pesticides, pharmaceutical products, paints, etc.);
  • the food industry;
  • textile, leather, wood, paper and rubber industries;
  • infrastructure projects (shopping centres, car parks, elevated and underground railways, etc.);
  • tourism or leisure projects (ski-runs and ski lifts, holiday villages, theme parks, etc).

Information required and consultation of interested parties

The developer (the person who applied for development consent or the public authority which initiated the project) must provide the authority responsible for approving the project with the following information as a minimum:

  • a description of the project (location, design and size);
  • data required to assess the main effects of the project on the environment;
  • possible measures to reduce significant adverse effects;
  • the main alternatives considered by the developer and the main reasons for this choice;
  • a non-technical summary of this information.

With due regard for rules and practices regarding commercial and industrial secrecy, this information must be made available to interested parties sufficiently early in the decision-making process:

  • the competent environmental authorities likely to be consulted on the authorisation of the project;
  • the public, by the appropriate means (including electronically) at the same time as information (in particular) on the procedure for approving the project, details of the authority responsible for approving or rejecting the project and the possibility of public participation in the approval procedure;
  • other Member States, if the project is likely to have transboundary effects. Each Member State must make this information available to interested parties on its territory to enable them to express an opinion.

Reasonable time-limits must be provided for, allowing sufficient time for all the interested parties to react. These opinions must be taken into account in the approval procedure.

Result of the assessment procedure and consultations

At the end of the procedure, the following information must be made available to the public and transmitted to the other Member States concerned:

  • the approval or rejection of the project and any conditions associated with it;
  • the principal arguments upon which the decision was based after examination of the results of the public consultation, including information on the process of public participation;
  • any measures to reduce the adverse effects of the project.

In accordance with national legislation, Member States must ensure that the interested parties can challenge the decision in court.

Background

The revision of the EIA Directive in 2003 made it possible to incorporate certain provisions of the Århus Convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. This Convention was signed by the European Community and its Member States in 1998. It aims to get European citizens more involved in decisions concerning their environment.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 85/337/EEC03.07.198503.07.1988OJ L 175 of 05.07.1985

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 97/11/EEC03.04.199714.03.1999OJ L 73 of 14.03.1997
Directive 2003/35/EEC25.06.200325.06.2005OJ L 56 of 25.06.2003

RELATED ACTS

Report of 23 June 2003 from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council on the application and effectiveness of the EIA Directive (Directive 85/337/EEC as amended by Directive 97/11/EC). How successful are the Member States in implementing the EIA Directive [COM(2003) 334 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

This report examines the effectiveness of the changes made by Directive 97/11/EC and the efficiency of the EIA Directive as a whole. It was found that the main problem lies in the way the Directive is applied and not, generally speaking, in the transposition of its legal requirements. In order to improve the application of the Directive, the Commission calls on the Member States to take certain measures, in particular to keep records, to make use of existing guidelines, and to introduce training for regional and local authorities. The Commission plans to adopt five initiatives: to improve screening (determining whether a specific project should be subject to an environmental impact assessment) to improve the use of thresholds, and the drafting of practical guidelines and guidelines for the interpretation of the EIA Directive, to improve training for officials responsible for EIA, to take enforcement action in the event of incomplete transposition and/or poor application, and to consider possible amendments to the EIA Directive.

Directive 2001/42/ECof the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment [Official Journal L 197 of 21.07.2001]

Last updated: 10.02.2006
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