Introduction and quick overview
The EIA process is always under pressure to be more efficient - i.e. to have the time taken to complete assessment reduced. There is usually a perception that it is the assessing agency that is responsible for most of there time taken in EIA. In 2010 I carried out research into the timelines of completed EIAs in WA.
All of the EIAs completed since 2000 in WA were examined and the published timelines for the various steps in the process were recorded and tabu- lated. Six key phases or steps in the EIA process were identified, each of which had published timelines:
- Phase 1 — the time taken for the proponent to produce its EIS once the EPA had determined that a formal EIA is required.
- Phase 2 — the EIA public review period.
- Phase 3 — the time taken for the proponent to respond to public submissions on the EIS.
- Phase 4 — the time taken for the EPA to complete its assessment and publish its report once the proponent’s response to public submis- sions had been completed and received by the EPA.
- Phase 5 — the time taken to determine any appeals on the EPA’s assessment (not all EPA assessments were appealed).
- Phase 6 — the time taken to set the conditions following the determination of any appeals.
There are two broad types of EIAs in WA:
- Quick EIAs, where the assessment process is shortened by combining the first four phases of EA into one step; and
- Full EIAs, where all the key phases of EIA are carried out sequentially.
Overview of results
The data on the time taken (as a percentage) for each of there 6 phases in shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Average times for each phase of full EIAs (% of total times)
In the absence of data on what can be considered timely EIAs, the data on the full EIAs taking less than 1,000 days are a useful starting point. The average time taken for these EIAs was 567 days. The most time-hungry phase of the process is the time taken to produce the EIS, where the percentage of time taken for this phase ranges from around 45% for the shorter EIAs to around 65% for those taking over 1,500 days.
Looking at Figure 1, the average % of time taken up in EIAs by the key stakeholders can be summarised as follows:
- The proponent - 62.6%
- The EPA's assessment - 5.4%
- Appeals - the Appeals convenor and the Minister - 17.5%; and
- Final approval and conditions setting - the Minister - 9.7%
The EIS preparation phase consists of three discreet steps: scoping, data collection and the final production of the EIS. A more detailed study into this phase would reveal some useful information about the key factors that cause unnecessary delays, in particular for those EIAs with very long times for completion.
A theme that emerged when looking at the next two most lengthy phases — the time taken for the proponent to respond to public submissions, and the appeals phase — related to the adequacy of the original scoping and whether any unforseen delays in EIAs are as a result of inadequate scoping. It may be that a more detailed examination of the data would reveal that excessive time is taken with over- cautious scoping of issues, or that delays are caused in the phases following the release of the EIS due to inadequate scoping in the first place.
Finally, the focus of this study has been on effi- ciency of the EIA process and no attention has been given to effectiveness. Achieving effective environ- mental outcomes is one of the aims of EIA, and the complete story about timeliness of EIA should also consider the relationship between length of time taken to complete an EIA and effective outcomes. As noted in the IAIA’s 1996 study on effectiveness in EIA: ‘A concern with effectiveness is a fundamental theme of EA theory and practice.’ (Sadler, 1996: ii). The possi- bility of linking effectiveness to efficiency will also be examined in the next phase of this work.
If you would like to download a full copy of there paper click on the link here.