The objective of the EIA is to
- avoid environmental damage beforehand according to the precautionary principle;
- look at environmental impacts from an integrative and comprehensive point of view, not just section-wise;
- achieve better project planning and approval procedures;
- integrate environmental concerns into the evaluation and decision-making procedure, paying to them the same attention as to any other concerns;
- make project approval procedures more transparent and comprehensible by involving the public.
In the European Union, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive introduced the EIA. In Austria, the EIA is incorporated in the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (UVP-G 2000) and various laws relating to the soil reform.
EU EIA Directive
Since 1985, there exists the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive with certain public and private projects. With Directive No 2011/92/EU of 13 December 2011 the original version of the EIA Directive No 85/337/EEC and the related amendments from the years 1997, 2003 and 2009 have been merged in an official codified version.
With the amending Directive No 2014/52/EU of 16 April 2014, new test areas (biodiversity, area consumption, climate change, disaster risks) have been created. A coordination and/or joint handling of the EIA and other environmental examinations (in case of the application of the Habitats Directive or the Birds Directive) and the easy accessibility of the electronic versions of the documents for the public have been standardised. The screening and/or the case-by-case examination have been designed more clearly. Decisions on approval have to contain a reasoned summary of the environmental effects, requirements to be met, and a description of reduction and monitoring measures. This amending Directive No 2014/52/EU has been transposed into national law with the 2018 Amendment to the EIA Act
Scope of application of the EIA
Annex 1 of the UVP Gesetz 2000 (EIA Act 2000) includes a list of 89 types of projects for which an EIA is mandatory if certain provisions apply. These projects are expected to have a substantial adverse impact on the environment. Examples are e.g.:
- Waste treatment plants
- Thermal power stations
- Roads and railway lines
- Skiing areas
- High voltage power lines
- Leisure parks, shopping centres, accommodation enterprises or publicly accessible car parks
- Extraction of raw materials
- Hydroelectric power plants
- Intensive animal husbandry
- Industrial plants (e.g. Chemical plants, iron and steel works, paper and pulp factories, casting plants, cement factories, refineries, breweries, carcass disposal plants)
For most of these project types, EIAs are only potentially mandatory if they exceed a certain size. Annex 1 contains threshold values or certain criteria specified for each type of project (e.g. production capacity, area of land used).
The list of projects in Annex 1 has three columns:
projects, which are to be subjected to an EIA procedure.
projects, which are to be subjected to a simplified EIA procedure
projects in areas worth being protected or areas subject to special requirements
|EIA||Simplified EIA procedure||Case-by-case assessment and, if necessary, simplified EIA|
Note: Column 3 contains projects in areas worth being protected or in areas for which certain requirements have been defined which are to be subjected to a case-to-case assessment (CCA) and, if required, to a simplified EIA procedure.
An EIA is not only provided for new projects, but also for modification projects (e.g. if the capacity of a plant is substantially increased).
Because not only the characteristics of a project (size, emissions, etc.) but also the project location are relevant in the assessment of possible environmental effects, the UVP-G 2000 (EIA Act 2000) also contains a reference to areas worth being protected. If, for example, the project’s intended location is in a conservation area, a Natura-2000 area, a water protection area, or an area where the air is already heavily polluted (for further details, please refer to the Ordinance on polluted areas (air) under downloads) or near settlement areas, there are certain projects for which lower threshold values apply for a mandatory EIA. For just a few project types, special requirements were specified. If these are applicable, a case-by-case assessment and, if necessary, a simplified EIA will have to be performed. Such special requirements are established, for example, for large-scale events (e.g. Olympic Games, World or European Championships), the reconstruction, extension or adaptation of race circuits, which have already existed for a long time or test tracks used for running safety tests as part of the production cycle.
In the case of new projects, Environmental Impact Assessments are in any case mandatory if they reach the threshold values or criteria specified in Annex 1, column 1 or 2. In the case of modification projects, projects in areas worth being protected or projects for which special requirements were specified (column 3); a case-by-case examination beforehand must establish whether any substantial adverse effects on the environment are to be expected. If the authority affirms this in an assessment, an EIA will have to be performed.
It often happens that a combination of several smaller, similar projects has an environmental impact that is to be rated as substantial due to an accumulation of effects. In this case, too, an EIA might be required for the respective project proposal that is located in the neighbourhood of a project of the same type, if the authority decides so in a case-by-case examination.
The Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism has published guidelines for various project types (mining, skiing areas, intensive livestock farming, trade and leisure facilities, waste incinerating plants and power stations, case-by-case examination) and a general guideline for EIA on how to produce an Environmental Impact Statement.
The EIA Procedure
The Environmental Impact Assessment is embedded in a concentrated approval procedure, within the framework of which an authority, the Provincial Government applies all material laws relevant for the realisation of a project
With the application, the project applicant has to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment Statement (EIAS). This EIAS has to include a description of the project, the most important examined alternatives, the impacts of the project on the environment, and the measures to avoid or reduce these impacts.
Within the framework of the EIA procedure public participation takes place at various stages of the procedure: Right to give an opinion on the tabled application documents and the Environmental Impact Assessment of the project applicant, right of inspection of the Environmental Impact Expert Opinion, right to give an opinion within the framework of a public discussion that might take place, right of the parties to participate in an oral hearing.
Concerning the assessment of the possible impact of a project on the environment, experts from the various technical fields are commissioned by the authority in charge of EIA. Within the framework of the EIA procedure, they jointly work out a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Expert Opinion. Additional approval criteria put the authority in the position to take into consideration the results of the EIA even if the material laws do not provide sufficient provisions for this purpose.
Neighbours, environmental ombudspersons, business location ombudspersons, business location communities, Austrian neighbouring communities immediately concerned and the planning body for water management have party status in the EIA approval procedure and the right to lodge a complaint with the Federal Administrative Court or, if required to lodge an appeal with the Administrative Court. Within the framework of the EIA approval procedure, in addition to that citizen’s initiatives (at least 200 citizens in the host municipality or in immediately neighbouring communities who support an opinion in the EIA procedure) have party status and, moreover, the possibility to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In the EIA approval procedure, recognized environmental organisations have also party status and the possibility to lodge an appeal against decisions.
An environmental organisation has to be officially recognized by the Federal Minister for Sustainability and Tourism in agreement with the Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs by decree, if it complies with the legal criteria. Accordingly, the environmental organisation must be an organisation or a foundation, which has been dedicated to environmental protection as a priority issue for at least three years before the application, is a non-profitmaking organisation and consists at least of 100 members. A federation must comprise at least five member associations. Recognized environmental organisations are to be regularly examined for their compliance with the recognition criteria.
The notice for approval has to be available for public inspection, after the completion of the project an acceptance test is carried out by the authority. With projects, for which an EIA process was carried out, a follow-up control is provided for three to four years after completion.
A complaint can also be lodged at the Federal Administrative Court against a decision of an EIA authority, which will be decided over by the Federal Administrative Court, by independent judges. A complaint can also be lodged against decrees of an EIA declaratory proceeding (it deals with the determination whether an EIA is mandatory for a project - yes or no).
Apart from the EIA, procedure there exists also the simplified EIA procedure. The difference between these two procedures is first and foremost that for the simplified procedure no Environment Impact Expert Opinion, but only a summary assessment of the environmental impacts, is to be provided; citizen’s initiatives have only party status with the right to inspect the files; environmental organisations can only appeal to the Administrative Court to a limited degree, and no follow-up control is provided for. However, the Administrative Court decided in autumn 2018 that a citizen’s initiative has party status also in the simplified EIA procedure (and not only stakeholder status) as it is, provided that it fulfils the legal requirement of national legislation, to be considered as part of the public concerned for the purposes of Article 1, para 2, lit. e of the EIA Directive, and that it is thus entitled to participate as a party in the procedure according to Article 9 para. 2 in connection with Article 6 of the Aarhus Convention.
The sequence of an EIA procedure is explained by a flowchart under the downloads.
The EIA for federal roads and high speed railroads.
For federal and high-speed railroads, the EIA is to be carried out by the Federal Ministry (only in German).
Within the framework of a partly concentrated approval procedure, the Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) has to grant all permits, which are to be implemented directly or indirectly by the Federal Government required for carrying out the project and to take the results of the EIA into consideration in this context. Moreover, he has to coordinate the remaining approval procedures.
For the remaining matters which are to be implemented by the laws of the Federal Provinces (e.g. nature conservation) the Provincial Government has to carry out a second partly concentrated approval procedure taking into consideration the results of the EIA. Parties can challenge decisions from the two partly concentrated procedures before the Federal Administrative Court and launch an appeal at the Administrative Court. Moreover, citizen’s initiatives can lodge a complaint before the Constitutional Court.
The Environmental Council
The Environmental Council has been established to observe the implementation of the UVP-G. (Environmental Impact Assessment Act) 2000. Members and substitute members shall be nominated by the parties represented in the National Council Nationalrat), the Federal Chamber of Labour (Bundesarbeiterkammer), the Austrian Chamber of Economics (Wirtschaftskammer Österreichs), the Standing Committee of the Presidents of the Austrian Chambers of Agriculture (Präsidentenkonferenz der Landwirtschaftskammern), the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund) , the Conference of the Heads of Provincial Governments (Landeshauptleutekonferenz), the Austrian Association of Municipalities (Gemeindebund), the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns (Städtebund) , the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (Bundesministerium für Nachhaltigkeit und Tourismus), the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt), the environmental ombudspersons (Umweltanwält/innen) and recognized environmental organisations. The management of the Environmental Council falls within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism.
Pursuant to p. 25 of the UVP-G (EIA Act) the Environmental Council can demand information and reports from the relevant bodies on issues relating to the EIA or the consolidated approval procedures, observe the effects of implementing the EIA Act, attach the results of such observations in the form of a statement to the report submitted by the Federal Minister for Sustainability and Tourism to the National Council, and make proposals for any necessary improvements of environmental protection.
Activities accomplished by the Environmental Council have so far included:
- Environmental Council recommendations regarding the establishment of a uniform law governing industrial plants
- Expert hearings on the topic of mass procedures
- Expert hearings on the topic of reforming the law on industrial plants
- Expert hearings on actual EIA procedures
- EIA Questionnaire to record ongoing and completed procedures
- Statement on the Report of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (now Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism) on the implementation of the UVP-G (EIA Act) 2000.