Environmental Impact Assessment

Principles

The Greens NSW believe that:

1. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are environmental management tools that include a systematic process for predicting and preventing the environmental impact of a range of activities including projects, policies, plans and programs;

2. EIA  must be underpinned by Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) principles;

3. decision-making structures and institutions should incorporate mechanisms for genuine and effective public participation;

4. the EIA process should be a holistic one that covers the entire lifecycle of a project, from inception to post-project implementation;

5. planning for ESD requires recognition of the inherent constraints of the natural environment (e.g. air, water, biodiversity) and that these constraints can be identified through resource-inventory or baseline studies;

6. EIA should attempt to understand the natural constraints on development (such as areas of significant habitat) and allow collection of adequate data over time such that natural variations may be revealed, with the information incorporated in local and regional planning instruments;

7. it should be mandatory for this information to be taken into account by proponents during the early stages of formulating development proposals;

8. mitigation must be considered after impact identification/assessment/prediction and in parallel with the design stage of the project cycle, otherwise necessary changes later will be costly;

9. it is important to consider alternative proposals;

10. the discretionary powers of decision-makers to approve a development that violates the constraints laid down in the relevant planning instrument should not be allowed by law;

11. the costs of preparation of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) must be borne by the proponents, it is, however, essential that the consultants be chosen independently of the proponents, work under the supervision of a public body, and be answerable to a panel that is not dominated by the proponents or their allies;

12. EIA must consider both indirect and cumulative impacts and the interrelationships between these impacts. The EIA must take into account all uncertainties and these must be communicated throughout the process;

13. Decision-making structures and institutions should also incorporate mechanisms for cooperative regional decision-making to encourage a bio-regional approach to planning.

Aims

The Greens NSW will work towards amending State legislation to ensure that:

14. any Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared independently of the proponent, by consultants who are chosen independently of the proponent or its allies;

15. the goal of any EIS is stated clearly, i.e. whether it is to form the basis of a decision on whether or not a project is to proceed (a go/no-go decision) or whether it is merely to provide guidelines for the construction and operation of a project that has already been approved;

16. in addition to site specific effects, EIA scope and boundary considers indirect effects of a development, eg, the potential for greenhouse gas emissions;

17. public participation is genuine, transparent and effective and starts at the beginning of the EIA process and continues throughout the process; public participation has a major influence on the outcome;

18. a public inquiry is mandatory for any project about which a high level of public concern has been expressed (eg, through a prescribed number of signatures on a petition);

19. the merits as well as the procedural issues of each EIS, are open to legal challenge;

20. a degraded environment is seen as a constraint against further detrimental impact, not as an opportunity to down-play the new impact's significance;

21. proponents are not allowed to evade responsibility for environmental care through transferring issues from the EIS to an ‘Environmental Management Plan’ or similar instrument;

22. monitoring is based on adequate baseline studies with post-decision monitoring and auditing regimes being mandatory and ongoing (i.e. not a once-off activity) and include penalties for non-compliance;

23. if a project that has been approved has worse environmental, social or economic impacts than predicted in the EIS, the proponent are to be held accountable for ongoing remediation/restoration of those impacts;

24. consultants may be called to justify their forecasts and be subject to penalties at law if their forecasts are found to have been made falsely or misleadingly. The important principle of accountability is to be built into the preparation of an EIS.

25. market-based processes and trading mechanisms such as biodiversity banking and offsets that trade off high conservation areas for development, including biodiversity offset funds, are no longer permitted .

Definitions:

Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) principles:

  • the precautionary principle- if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
  • inter-generational equity-is about fairness between generations and that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations.
  • intra-generational equity - is about fairness among the current generation, concerns equity within and between people and nations, and is essential for achieving environmental justice.
  • conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity- these must be fundamental considerations for the maintenance of healthy, productive and functioning ecosystems.
  • integration of environmental, economic and social aspects into decision-making - the three pillars of sustainability must support each other simultaneously.
  • improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms- environmental factors should be included in the valuation of assets and services.

Other related policies

  • Air Quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Coal and coal seam gas
  • Coastal Management
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Heritage
  • Local Government
  • Planning
  • Waste Elimination
  • Water