On 14 April 2014, the European Commission adopted changes to Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, known as the EIA Directive. The amendments are based on a 2009 survey by the European Commission which indicated the need to strengthen environmental protection, expedite proceedings and reduce costs. In Estonia, the Directive has been transposed as the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Auditing Act (EIAEAA).
The following is a list of main amendments affecting the EIAEAA:
Changes in EIA procedural requirements
- Member states received a mandate to reduce requirements for assessment of infrastructure projects co-financed under EU regulations.
- Major changes with regard to screening. The Directive provides additional criteria for the decision to initiate an EIA and requires formulation and publication of all individual decisions to initiate or not to initiate an EIA.
- A time limit for EIA decisions. As a rule, a decision must be made within a maximum of 90 days from the date of an activity licence application. In Estonia, a decision requiring an EIA can in principle be made at any point during the licencing procedure. The time limit for decisions is usually not an issue, although a draft EIAEAA amendment extending the screening phase has been proposed. Under the planned amendment, relevant agencies should be consulted to establish the necessity of EIAs in the future.
- The Directive requires permits to be issued within a reasonable time. This essentially provides a basis for developers’ claims in cases where proceedings have dragged on unreasonably.
- Specific time-frames for public consultations: 30 to 60 days. In Estonia, the currently applicable minimum display period for EIA programmes and reports is just 14 days.
Changes in EIA content requirements
- EIA reports must cover significant effects only. This should help reduce the need to describe effects which are known to be insignificant from the outset.
- New fields of assessment are provided, e.g. human health and population, waste management, climate change, land use and soil protection and risk of disasters (both natural and man-made).
- The Directive sets an obligation to assess reasonable alternatives, including the existing situation. Alternatives may differ by design, location or technology.
- Obligation to provide measures for monitoring significant adverse effects. The type and time-frame of surveillance must be proportional.
Impartiality and avoidance of conflicts of interest
- The Directive requires authorities to avoid conflicts of interest. If the authority conducting an EIA is also the developer, it should at least separate the conflicting functions internally. These situations may arise, for example, with local government bodies which can both apply and issue building permits.
Under the Directive, member states have three years to transpose the amendments (the deadline is 16 May 2017). Currently no information is available on relevant amendments to the EIAEAA in Estonia. We will let you know about any further developments.