Emerging Issues In The Eia Process

After twenty-five years of experience in applying the EIA process in the United States, the process is maturing and the resultant procedures and documentation are becoming more technically sound and appropriate in including the environment in project planning and decision making. However, issues continue to emerge related to the process. These issues include new topical items and the application of new tools and techniques. Emerging items are related to cumulative impacts, focused activities related to the EIA process, the inclusion of risk assessment, the need to address impacts on biodiversity (Council on Environmental Quality 1993) and global issues, the importance of monitoring and environmental auditing, particularly as related to major projects, the need for environmentally responsible project management, and the emerging use of market-based approaches in project planning and evaluation.

Cumulative impact considerations in the EIA process are becoming increasingly important as projects are recognized as not being constructed and operated in isolation, but in the context of existing and other planned projects in the environs. Methods for identifying key cumulative impact concerns need to be developed and addressed in a responsible manner in the EIA process.

Risk assessment is a tool developed in the 1970s primarily for evaluating environmental regulatory strategies. In recent years, interest in the application of risk assessment within the EIA process (Canter 1993a) has increased. Risk assessment provides not only a focus on human health concerns, but can also be applied in ecological analyses. Risk assessment is anticipated to become more effectively integrated in the EIA process in the coming years.

As was noted earlier, the EIA process is being applied in a more focused manner to environmental permits and specific environmental remediation projects. In contrast, interest is increasing in considering regional and broader issues in the EIA process. One example is the delineated need for addressing the impacts of projects on biodiversity (Council on Environmental Quality 1993). This need results from the realization that projects can have implications on biodiversity, and this item should be considered, particularly for larger scale projects. A related item is the need to address project impacts in a transboundary context. This issue is particularly important as related to the impacts of a country's projects on other countries. Finally, the implications for some large-scale projects, in terms of acid rain as well as global warming, may have to be considered.

The need to consider the EIA process in relation to project management and follow-on is another topic on the EIA agenda. Follow-on monitoring to document experienced impacts, as well as auditing, was mentioned earlier. Monitoring and auditing can be used for project management decisions to minimize detrimental impacts (Canter 1993b).

Market-based approaches in environmental management include topics such as the use of mitigation banking for wetland losses and the application of emissions trading relative to both air pollutant and water pollutant emissions. The economic evaluation of potential environmental impacts is also of interest. This topic should receive more attention in the coming years, and soon such economic analyses may possibly be included with traditional cost-benefit analyses in project planning and decision making.

A number of new tools and techniques can be effectively used within the EIA process. The GIS represents an emerging technology that can facilitate resource identification and evaluation. GIS technology is already being used in larger scale projects.

Expert systems also represent an emerging tool which could find applicability within the EIA process. To date, most expert systems developed in environmental engineering focus on hazardous waste management and groundwater pollution evaluation, along with pollution control facilities. The development of expert systems for use in the EIA process is needed.

Public participation in the EIA process often leads to conflict. Several techniques are being developed in environmental mediation which have potential applicability in the EIA process. Examples include alternative dispute resolution and environmental dispute resolution techniques. A key feature of these techniques is the incorporation of a third-party intervener. The intervener negotiates between the project proponent and those interests who have raised opposition to the project on environmental grounds.

As increased information becomes available on environmental systems and processes, the associated development of mathematical models can be used for project impact quantification and evaluation. Such modeling is anticipated to increase, particularly for major projects that may have significant environmental impact issues.

In summary, the EIA process represents a young field within environmental engineering, while at the same time signs that it is a maturing field of practice are evident. Although many policy and social implications are associ ated with the EIA process, the process is fundamentally a technical or scientific process. Accordingly, the application of scientific approaches is fundamental to the effective implementation of this process in project planning and decision making.

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