Plans to revise the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (EIA) ignore the additional financial and administrative burden it will create for Europe's local governments, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has warned. The Committee also argues that the European Commission proposal, which seek to revise environmental assessment legislation for major projects, must remain far more flexible in its approach and does not give enough consideration to the differing planning procedures that exist across Member States.
The EIA Directive, which has been revised several times since it came into force 25 years ago, makes it mandatory for all large development projects to review the impact they may have on the environment during the planning process. The Commission proposals to revise the Directive was the focus of an opinion by Marek Sowa (PL/EPP), Marshal of the Małopolska Voivodship, adopted during the CoR's plenary yesterday. Sowa stresses that local and regional authorities play a central role in managing the planning consent process on the ground. He fears, however, that the new revisions will significantly increase costs and place further administrative burden on local and regional authorities.
Marshal Sowa said, "I believe that the proposed amendment of the EIA Directive, in contrast to the position of the European Commission, will have a significant impact on local and regional authorities, playing a key role in its implementation. Many of the proposed changes to the EIA Directive would lead to an increase of the administrative burden in terms of the organisation, management, and costs for both the investor and the local and regional authorities".
Sowa argues that the Directive must remain flexible in its approach to ensure that EIA's do not create lengthy delays slowing economic development and undermining EU competitiveness. The Commission proposals do not fully consider the differences in planning rules found across Member States, he warns. For example, for some Member States EIA systems are separated from the overall planning consent process. The introduction of an EIA ‘one-stop shop’ whereby one agency, organisation or local authority is responsible for overseeing environmental impact assessments, together with assessments required by other EU environmental legislation, should also be voluntary rather than obligatory. Similarly, Sowa's opinion is critical of certain elements of the "screening" procedure – where local government determine which projects require an EIA – arguing that it should avoid becoming a “mini EIA” and ultimately be decided by individual local authorities.
"I would like to draw special attention to the fact that the environmental impact assessments should be carried out only for projects that may have significant effects on the environment, rather than towards retrofit projects and innovations proposed by small and medium-sized enterprises or towards and investments adapting the current systems to the changing environmental legislation. It is important that the changes would not result in lengthy procedures threatening the investments. That could cause a potential threat to social and economic interests of the Member States, may lead to a reduction in the competitiveness of the EU as a whole and in many cases would actually neither be conducive to the protection of the environment nor to the health and life of humans", Sowa added.
The opinion backs "environmental scoping" of projects but, in contrast to the Commission's proposals, argues that it should not be compulsory due to the additional costs that will be incurred for the developer and local authority. The opinion also backs the introduction of a minimum public consultation deadline of 30 days adding that maximum deadlines should be avoided and decided by national governments. The CoR opinion also argues that it is unrealistic to set specific time-frames for authorities to implement EIAs, especially for complex projects, and in the long-run could compromise environmental standards. It further notes that the revision to the EIA Directive must better balance the interests between developers and the public and calls for further resources to be dedicated to increasing the capacity of local and regional authorities.