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EIAR Guidelines

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In May 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published updated guidelines ("the Guidelines") on the information that a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) should contain. By way of context, EIA stands for the process of Environmental Impact Assessment carried out by the competent authority whereas EIAR is the principal document submitted by a developer upon which the EIA is based.
 
The Guidelines are prepared pursuant to the EPA's function under s.72 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 (as amended). Under Directive 2011/92/EU[1] as amended by Directive 2014/52/EU[2] ("the EIA Directives"), changes were introduced to contribute to the improved protection of the environment which included revised standards regarding the preparation of EIARs. The Guidelines are intended to be an authoritative reference for those preparing EIARs for projects within the scope of the EIA Directives.  
 
They apply to the preparation of all EIARs undertaken in the State, not just regimes for which the EPA is the competent authority. The preparation of the Guidelines involved extensive consultation with a wide range of external stakeholders including State bodies, NGOs and members of the public. S.72 of the 1992 Act requires both developers and competent authorities to have regard to the Guidelines, where applicable.
 
The document is divided into three distinct sections where guidance is provided:

1)           The Role of EIARs in the environmental assessment process and key factors to consider in preparing an EIAR;
2)           The Key Activities involved in the preparation of an EIAR;
3)           The Presentation of an EIAR.

The Role of an EIAR

The Guidelines state that the fundamental principles to be followed when preparing an EIAR are as follows:
  • Anticipating, predicting, avoiding and reducing significant effects;
  • Assessing and mitigating effects;
  • Maintaining objectivity;
  • Ensuring clarity and quality;
  • Providing relevant information to decision makers; and
  • Facilitating better consultation.
Compliance with these fundamental considerations will aid the relevant competent authority in coming to their reasoned conclusion on "the significant effects of the project on the environment" as outlined in the EIA Directives. The EPA emphasises the need for clear, concise and unambiguous information to be provided throughout an EIAR. This requires a systematic approach to data collection, with easily replicable techniques allowing for the adequate consideration of an EIAR.
 
[1] Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment
[2] Directive 2014/52/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment

Another key element refers to the anticipation, avoidance and mitigation of significant adverse effects on the environment resulting from a project. The Guidelines highlight that throughout the EIA process, anticipating effects is the most effective means of avoiding significant adverse effects. The Guidelines further provide that anticipation works best when applied in the early stages of a project.

The Key Activities

The Guidelines outline how to carry out each of the seven stages of work required to prepare a compliant EIAR. These are:
  1. Screening;
  2. Scoping;
  3. Consideration of Alternatives;
  4. Project Description;
  5. Baseline Description;
  6. Assessment of Impacts;
  7. Mitigation & Monitoring.
These stages are largely sequential, but not necessarily consecutive, with some elements featuring on an ongoing basis throughout the process of preparing an EIAR. The EIAR or sections of an EIAR should avoid the use of a "conclusions" sections but can include a summary of effects, a mitigation and monitoring measures compendium or a section on residual effects. The Guidelines state that it can be useful to provide an overview of the ways that the EIA process has helped to reduce or avoid significant effects of the proposed project.

Presenting the Information in an EIAR
 
Although the Directive contains many requirements about the factors that an EIAR needs to address, it makes almost no reference to how  the information should be presented in an EIAR. The Guidelines helpfully set out a number of good practice tips for report presentation. This includes advice on content, structure and language that should be used to make a report accessible to the widest available audience. However, they underline that although a report should be easy to follow, it should not as a result "omit or understate any effects which may be controversial."[1]
 
Summary
 
The publication of these updated Guidelines, drafted with the goal of improving the quality of EIARs and thus facilitating compliance with the EIA Directives, comes at a welcome time. 

The full guidelines can be viewed here.

Written by: Rory Ferguson, Craig Farrar and Daniel Delaney
 
[1] Environmental Protection Agency, Guidelines on the information to be contained in EIARs, p.67

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