South Africa’s new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations came into effect on August 2, 2010. EIA is a pro-active and systematic process where potential environmental impacts both positive and negative associated with certain activities are assessed, investigated and reported. The process is designed to facilitate integrated environmental management.
The new revised regulations are the result of a substantial consultative process and were published by the minister of water and environmental affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica. The Nema EIA 2010 regulations and the listing notices thereto replace the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) EIA regulations of 2006 and its associated listing notices.
These regulations seek to streamline the EIA process. It also introduces an approach where impacts associated with the sensitivity of the receiving environment are treated with more care – this is achieved through the introduction of a Listing Notice about activities planned for predefined sensitive areas. The lists of activities requiring environmental authorisation prior to commencement have also been revised.
This was a major focus of the amendment process as the EIA system was overburdened by large numbers of applications associated with insignificant activities; the comprehensive scoping and EIR process with its associated substantial costs was in some instances unjustifiably required for activities for which the impacts were known and thereby potential entrepreneurs could be excluded from the economy; and some critical activities were omitted.
Three listing notices have been published in conjunction with the new regulations. Listing notice one stipulates the activities requiring a basic assessment report (BAR). These are typically activities that have the potential to impact negatively on the environment but due to the nature and scale of such activities, these impacts are generally known.
Listing notice two identifies the activities requiring both Scoping and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). These are typically large scale or highly polluting activities and the full range of potential impacts need to be established through a scoping exercise prior to it being assessed.
The construction of facilities for the storage, or storage and handling of dangerous goods with a combined capacity of 500m3 or more, both above and underground storage will require Scoping and an EIR and not a BAR.
Listing notice three contains activities that will only require an environmental authorisation through a basic assessment process if the activity is undertaken in one of the specified geographical areas indicated in that listing notice.
Geographical areas differ from province to province. An example of such a listing will be cell phone masts. In terms of public consultation amendments have been effected to ensure a fair process.
For example, the period from 15 December to 02 January has been excluded from public consultation processes and in the counting of days for both decisions and lodging of appeals, etc. A provision has also been added requiring that a decision to grant or refuse an application must be published in the same newspaper as was used during the public participation process.