Environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments are both important steps in the environmental approvals process. While they are often confused with one another, they each play a different and distinct role. Put simply, environmental assessments define the environment while environmental impact assessments define the proposed activity and what effect it will have on the defined environment.
What are Environmental Assessments?
Environmental assessments (EA) investigate environmental characteristics and result in detailed documents which define a specified site and the environmental values associated with it. EAs are also sometimes referred to as environmental surveys. An EA involves researching and collecting relevant information about the values of a ‘receiving environment’ through field surveys, public or purchased data, literature reviews and other methods that will provide relevant information.
What are Environmental Impact Assessments?
In comparison, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is much more comprehensive than an EA. EIAs take information gathered from a range of EAs and carry out an in-depth examination of the effects that proposed activity will have on the receiving environment, and may offer suggestions of alternatives. Typically, an EIA will methodically examine the effect of each activity on each value or aspect of the site. For example, the proposed activities of clearing, groundwater abstraction and dust might each be assessed against the values of vegetation, habitat, fauna, wetlands and human receptors. An EIA also facilitates environmental approvals and helps regulators or decision-making authorities decide whether a proposal should be approved of or not.
How EAs and EIAs fit in the overall process
Another way of understanding the difference between environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments is considering their role in the overall environmental assessment and approvals process. At Focused Vision Consulting, the projects we work on typically follow the following phases:
- Environmental Assessments
As explained above, in the environmental assessment phase, the environmental aspects of a proposed development site are defined.
- Environmental Impact Assessments
Once the environment is defined in the EA above, the EIA defines the proposed activity or impact and what effect it will have on each of the aspects in the defined environment.
- Environmental Approvals
This phase involves the preparation of applications and supporting documentation, which is then lodged to apply for approval for the proposed impacts on the environment as defined in the EIA.
- Environmental Management
Environmental management outlines the ways in which the impacts on the environment can be avoided, reduced or mitigated. These are presented as commitments or agreements in connection to environmental approvals applications. They can become the conditions of approval and must be upheld, usually in the form of environmental management plans.
- Environmental Compliance
The compliance phase involves ensuring that projects are carried out in accordance with the environmental management commitments made in previous phases, and according to all the conditions of approval. This phase can involve environmental monitoring or auditing and usually requires compliance reporting of some description, either via monitoring plans or annual environmental reports to regulatory authorities.
The phases above demonstrate that environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments fulfill unique roles. For more information or to enquire about the different assessment services we offer, get in touch with the friendly team at Focused Vision Consulting today.