Chapter 1: literature review of EIA
1. What is EIA
An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment, together consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects.
The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made." EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.
At the end of the project, an EIA should be followed by an audit. An EIA audit evaluates the performance of an EIA by comparing actual impacts to those that were predicted. The main objective of these audits is to make future EIAs more valid and effective.
EIAs began to be used in the 1960s as part of a rational decision making process. It involved a technical evaluation that would lead to objective decision making. EIA was made legislation in the US in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969. It has since evolved as it has been used increasingly in many countries around the world. EIA as it is practiced today, is being used as a decision aiding tool rather than decision making tool. There is growing dissent on the use of EIA as its influence on development decisions is limited and there is a view it is falling short of its full potential. There is a need for stronger foundation of EIA practice through training for practitioners, guidance on EIA practice and continuing research.
Generally, the essence of an EIA is:
a) Defining: to define a proposal for a project, plan or programme;
b) Scoping: the process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues relating to a proposed action;
c) Preparing: the major stage in an EIA including baseline studies of the affected area, identification of environmental impacts of the proposed development, prediction of the impacts, assessment of the significance of the impacts and prescription of mitigation measures and monitoring programmes;
d) Implementing: including the submission of the EIA report (Environmental Impact Statement), approval process from relative authorities and implementation of the mitigation measures;
e) Monitoring: the stage for monitoring and auditing the environmental management and performance of the proposed development during the construction and operation phases.
2. EIA effectiveness
Since EIA emerged in 1969, academics have been questioning the effectiveness of the process, in both theory and practice. Much of the debate about the effectiveness of EIA revolves around the factors that can be advanced to explain why EIA systems are effective, on which evaluation criteria are appropriate in judging the effectiveness of the EIA system and on how EIA in general can be improved. According to Sadler (1996) effectiveness refers to whether something works as intended and meets the purpose(s) for which it is designed.
3. EIA in HK
EIA in Hong Kong, since 1998, is regulated by the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance 1997.The original proposal to construct the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line over ground across the Long Valley failed to get through EIA, and the Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation had to change its plan...