The laws presented so far provide the legal basis for EIAs. However, as already demonstrated and as I will discuss in further detail in chapter 5, the legal conditions grant a great deal of discretion and thresholds within which project owners, authorities and other persons involved can act. In practice, divergences of EIA procedures among member states might be greater or smaller than it is provided for by the relevant laws. These practical aspects will be briefly assessed in this chapter, by comparing two indicators for them: (1) The typical duration of an EIA and (2) the views of stakeholders on the application of screening criteria.

4.1. Duration of EIA

The duration of the EIA proceedings are a crucial factor for the costs involved: The more concise the proceeding between the submission of the EIS on behalf of the project owner and the publication of the final decision, the more cost-effective it is. I therefore thought that a comparative assessment of proceedings duration would be an interesting index to evaluate, after having read such a study on EIAs in Austria and Liechtenstein. However, I found only insufficient data for Germany and the UK; even the Austrian studies turned out to have their limitations.

In Germany, the EIA practice diverges very much from Land to Land (Ref. 70). Proceeding durations in general have been criticised for being too long and too elaborate. In general, delays occur most commonly due to insufficient information provided by the project owner (Ref. 68, Ref. 69). The EIA in Germany is not an independent proceeding (as demonstrated in chapter 2), but done within the general framework of another clearance proceeding („…Bundesimmissionsschutzgesetz-Genehmigungsverfahrens, eines Planfeststellungsverfahrens nach Verwaltungsverfahrensgesetz (VwVfG) oder eines Genehmigungsverfahrens nach Wasserhaushaltsgesetz, Erlaubnis gemäß § 7 WHG, Bewilligung gemäß § 8 WHG“ Ref. 70). Accordingly, the length of the EIA is determined by the other proceeding. Neither proceedings under the Wasserhaushaltsgesetz (“water consumption law”) nor under the Verwaltungsverfahrensgesetz have deadlines or time limits (Ref. 70).

In Austria, the length of EIAs has been subject to assessments twice (see Ref. 68 for a study from 2006 using data from 2000; and Ref. 71 for a study from 2009 with more current data). In Austria, proceedings are also often criticised for being too slow, which was the reason for the evaluations. The first study of 2006 was dismissed by environmental organisations for the small sample size it had used.

The 2009 study evaluated EIAs that were done between 01-01-2005 and 01-03-2009. It used a representative sample and showed a median length for the proceeding of 380 days. However, the data used for this evaluation was rather thin. The average would have included exceptionally long EIAs, which would have amounted to 452 days. A division of the data into sectors showed that mining projects were the most demanding ones, with an median length of the EIA of 600 days; water management project were those with the lowest median length of only 293 days. The former case was based on the evaluation of five EIAs, the latter of only four; it is therefore fair to doubt this study.

However, the older assessment of 2006 showed similar trends of 400 days on average for a regular EIA and a median of 380 days (Ref. 68). It is worth noting that the found actual length of EIAs goes beyond what the laws aim for: “Es kann in diesem Zusammenhang allerdings nicht unerwähnt bleiben, dass die ambitionierten Entscheidungsfristen des §7 UVP-G 2000 von 9 Monaten für UVP-Verfahren und 6 Monaten für vereinfachte Verfahren noch nicht ganz erreicht werden“ (Ref. 68). This still applies according to the 2009 study.

For the United Kingdom, no equivalent study or relevant information was found. In this context, it is worth noting that there is a high degree of fragmentation in EIA practice as a result of the geographic and sectoral sub-division of relevant legislation (as shown in chapter 2). Due to this, framework conditions for EIAs can diverge significantly within the UK and make a study on EIA practice difficult and complex. It might well be that for this reason, no such study has been done so far. However, at least the official guide to the EIA for developers re-iterates the legal commitments for the authorities: “The planning authority is required to determine a planning application which is the subject of environmental impact assessment within 16 weeks from the date of receipt of the environmental statement, unless the developer agrees to a longer period” (Ref. 56).

4.2. Stakeholder views on screening practice

As I will discuss in further detail in chapter 5, there are very few comparative studies done on EIA practice in the EU. The most extensive one was published in 2009 and dealt only with a selected range of issues, including the screening practice (Ref. 4). This so-called “(IMP)3” survey supplemented a report by the commission to the council that investigated the legal aspects of EIA implementation (Ref. 72). Both documents were published around the same time.

The (IMP)3 report (Ref. 4), from which the following paragraphs draw their information, was based on an extensive survey among 183 EIA stakeholders and 53 additional interviews. The data collected this way provided me with a unique opportunity to get a direct view on EIA practice. One question of the survey dealt with the projects that are subject to the EIA (thus screening). The study reports that most of the stakeholders were generally satisfied regarding three aspects explicitly investigated: (1) The list of projects that are subject to an EIA; (2) the screening systems that are applied; and (3) the description of the projects and the applied thresholds.

Some problem areas that were identified in the EIA directive’s annexes contradict these findings. The survey showed three key issues: (1) A lack of accuracy in the interpretation of screening criteria; (2) a lack of evidence for matching screening criteria with potential impacts; (3) a need for tighter guidelines and more research on screening practice. Furthermore, a few project types were suggested for inclusion in annex I, alongside with minor adjustments of criteria or thresholds in already included project types. There is a recurring result of two responses that contradict each other. For example, “an almost equal proportion of stakeholders responded that there were too many project types as too few” (Ref. 4). This allows three possible conclusions: Either the stakeholders perceive the situation very much based on their background; or the situation among member states diverges strongly; or the data is insufficient for drawing general conclusions (in this context, note the small sample size of stakeholders per member state). Along this observation, the authors recommend further research into problems with screening, in particular project descriptions.

Nevertheless, one can find some general conclusions in the report: “There is a great deal of variation among the levels to which some of the thresholds are set. This is very likely regional or nationally dependent, and dependent upon experience of those stakeholders working in those areas” (Ref. 4). An interesting suggestion was derived from a survey on merging the two annexes of the EIA directive into one: Some respondents suggested to instead link EIA obligations to environmental impacts rather than project features; this way, features that are specific for the region or project site could be taken into account in a more standardised fashion.

On the level of individual member states, the survey also assessed the data for particularly interesting replies and presented them according to MS and type of stakeholder. The answers of the participants from Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom are shown in fig. 4.1, fig. 4.2 and fig. 4.3 below. Like all other results, they will be discussed in chapter 5.

Figures excluded

Fig. 4.1: Results of a survey on screening practice. Selected suggestions for improvement according to member states and stakeholder (simplified from Ref. 4).

Fig. 4.2: Results of a survey on screening practice. Selected suggestions for improvement according to member states and stakeholder (simplified from Ref. 4).

Fig. 4.3: Results of a survey on screening practice. Selected suggestions for improvement according to member states and stakeholder (simplified from Ref. 4).

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