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EIA methodology: the Austrian legislation

The procedure of an environmental impact assessment is characterised in most systems by a systematic, step-by-step approach including the following main elements:

  • Applicability of EIA laws (screening): the decision whether the EIA regulations apply can be based on an initial assessment of the expected impacts of a project (Umwelerheblichkeitsprüfung, screening).

    Alternatively, the lists enumerating all projects that are to be subjected to a full EIA that are part of the law itself (Appendix I to BGBl 1996/773), are used.

    Both the EU regulation as well as the Austrian law rely primarily on this enumeration of projects in a list (§ 3 section 3 and 4, Anhang I); 97/11/EC adds to that the screening principle as an equal alternative to be used in the future.

  • Definition of the scope (scoping): The complexity and large number of possible impacts of a project on the environment, which again is a complex system, requires a definition of the conceptual boundaries of the assessment, to ensure the feasibility and efficiency of the exercise.

    Scoping defined the conceptual, spatial, and temporal boundaries and limitations for the assessment. BGBl 1996/773 in § 4 defines the scoping procedure. Another guidelines is formulated in § 8, 11 section 3 for the assessment report itself.

  • Production of the Impact Statement; (EIS) by the project proponent, covering:

    • Description of the project: the EIA must be based on a detailed and problem specific information base on the proposed project and the significant environmental impacts it may cause; the description of the project itself - as well as any administrative and regulatory information that may apply - has been integrated in the assessment report (§ 6, section 1 Z 1).

    • Base-line survey of the environment: in addition to the project description, the assessment report must contain an inventory or baseline-survey of the environment, that may be impacted upon even marginally; The survey of the environment is again to be part of the assessment report (§ 6 section 1 Z 3, Z 1 lit. d).

    • Prediction of the impacts: After the survey, the possible future impacts have to be forecasted. Again this is to be an integrated part of the assessment report (§6, section 1 Z 4, §12 section 3 Z 1).

  • Checking of the assessment report: EIA procedures should include formal steps of verification and checking of the project specific and environmental data supplied by the project proponent. BGBl 1996/773 foresees a two-step procedure with the basic assessment report (see above) contrasted by the expert opinion of the Umweltverträglichkeitsgutachten that is both summarising and checking the assessment report (§ 12 Sect. 3 Z 3).

  • Evaluation of impacts and decision process: Predicted environmental impacts must be evaluated in reference to the desired state of the environment to provide input to the decision making process.

    Most EIA systems only require the environmental impacts to be considered. BGBl 1996/773 is more stringent in that it defined specific criteria for acceptability in § 17 section 2 and 4.

  • Monitoring phase: monitoring of the actual consequences of a project is an integrated part of EIA methodology. BGBl 1996/773 also include monitoring (Nachkontrolle) to make sure that the project conforms with its specifications (§ 20), and to check whether the environmental impacts deviate from the prediction (§ 21). Corrective measure for the authorities are, however, rather limited.

Based on: Bergthaler, Weber and Wimmer (1998): Die Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfung. Manz, Wien.

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