The final decision with respect to project authorization may appear a logical point at which to terminate appraisal. If appraisal is halted at this stage, however, there is no way of knowing whether predicted impacts actually occur. EIA should be characterized by a stream of data collection and analysis running from information on environmental status at the outset, baseline data, through a gradual process refinement and augmentation during impact prediction to the collection of data on actual impacts. Postimplementation it means monitoring data can be used either to refine the proposal, perhaps by the inclusion of additional remedial measures and the relaxation of constraints found to be unnecessarily restrictive, or to modify the decision. In the worst case, it may be necessary to rescind authorization if predictions severely underestimate adverse impacts. Data collection after proposals have been implemented can also be used to assess the accuracy of EIA. Such audits involve a comparison of the predicted situation with the situation that actually occurs. The success of the audit is dependent on the complexity with which the EIA was originally carried out. Potential impact must be described in EIA adequately in terms of their anticipated magnitude, spatial distribution, and timing so that accuracy can be assessed.
It is necessary to keep in mind that by approving EIA, the EIA process is not finished. The process continues during the implementation as well as after the implementation is finished, by monitoring and audit. Monitoring and audit should give information about the stage of the environment after implementation of proposal and can be understood as the control of EIA. In some cases they can be used to refine the proposal, perhaps by the inclusion of additional remedial measures and the relaxation of constraints found to be unnecessarily restrictive, or to modify the decision.
EIA is a cyclical process, theoretically, which forms a self-sustaining, positive feedback loop. Once the EIA process has been completed what has been learnt about that environment, the methods used in the EIA to identify, predict, and evaluate impacts and the relationship between the predictions made and actual impacts that occur postdevelopment can all be used in future EIAs, refining and hopefully improving the whole process.
EIA has been so widely adopted in project planning that there is a risk that its use will be confined to the appraisal of projects. The objective of EIA is not to force decision-makers to adopt the least environmentally damaging alternative. If this were the case, few developments would be done. Environmental impact is one of the issues addressed by decision-makers as they search to balance the often competing demands of development and environmental protection. Social and economic factors may be far more pressing. Major development projects often have such profound implications that they dictate the course of future policy.
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