Environmental impact assessment

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The environmental impact assessment ( EIA ) is an environmental policy instrument of environmental precaution with the aim of examining environmentally relevant projects for possible environmental effects before they are approved. As a rule, it is limited to the examination of the effects on the environmental protection goods. Economic and social consequences are not part of the EIA. There are other instruments for this, such as B. the social impact assessment (social impact assessment) or the sustainability assessment (impact assessment).

In the meantime, many countries have implemented the environmental impact assessment in their national legal systems; It is also increasingly playing an important role in the so-called developing countries in the context of sustainable development. International institutions such as For example, the World Bank with its “Operational Manuals” has a set of instruments for environmental impact assessment that is regularly used for project and loan inquiries.

The EIA is structured and organized differently depending on the country, institution or area of ​​application. However, an international standard has emerged that includes the following basic elements:

  • Screening process to determine whether an EIA appears necessary for certain projects
  • Scoping process to define the content of the investigation
  • Creation of an environmental report ( environmental impact study ) including an alternative test
  • Public participation (sometimes several times during the various procedural stages)
  • Authority participation
  • Involvement of public bodies (municipalities, environmental associations, etc.)
  • Decision on admissibility taking into account the results of the participation process and the environmental report

The implementation regulations and sector-specific guidelines are usually accompanied by positive lists of the projects that are to be subjected to an EIA.


The first standardization of an environmental impact assessment was made in 1969 in the USA with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, or USCode, Title 42, §§ 4331 ff.). The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) established there must be drawn up by federal authorities to accompany all major measures and taken into account in the decision-making process. This legal institution has been adopted in many legal systems around the world.

In the European Union , the environmental impact assessment was introduced by Council Directive 85/337 / EEC of June 27, 1985 on the environmental impact assessment of certain public and private projects . It stipulated a deadline for transposition by the Member States of July 2, 1988. The EIA Directive has undergone several changes and is currently called Directive 2011/92 / EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 13, 2011 on the environmental impact assessment of certain public and private projects . The EU member states implement the EIA Directive by enacting their own legal provisions, for example in Austria through the Environmental Impact Assessment Act 2000 (UVP-G 2000) and in the Federal Republic of Germany through the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment (UVPG) of February 12, 1990 Validity from August 1, 1990.

On October 26, 2012, the European Commission proposed a revision of the EIA Directive . a. should ease the administrative burden of larger projects.

In Switzerland , the EIA was introduced in 1986 by the Environmental Protection Act (USG) and substantiated in 1988 in the Ordinance on Environmental Impact Assessment (UVPV) .

Objective and structure of the EIA in Germany

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the EIA is a dependent part of administrative procedures that serve to decide on the admissibility of projects, i.e. individual projects of a certain scope (such as the construction of an airport or the construction of an industrial plant or the construction of a trunk road). The possible environmental impacts of the planned project (and possible alternatives) should be determined and evaluated so that the knowledge gained in this way can flow into the decision-making process about the admissibility of the project. The examined environmental impacts are possible impairments of the following protected assets: people (health and well-being), animals, plants and biological diversity, soil, water (surface water and groundwater), air, climate, cultural and other material assets as well as the interaction between this. A project is designated as non-environmentally friendly if its negative impact on at least one of the protected assets is significant. An effect is significant if a legal limit value is exceeded as a result of the project or if a protected property for which there is no binding limit value is severely impaired quantitatively or qualitatively.

In the case of admission procedures that are guided by consideration, the result of the EIA must be included in the assessment of the admission and design of the project. However, the EIA has no direct material legal effect, i.e. a project cannot be automatically prevented by a negative EIA. In the case of conditional approval procedures, on the other hand, in which a project must be approved if the legal requirements are met without weighing or discretion, the result of the EIA either has no effect at all or it leads if the result of the EIA also means that an environmental requirement is not present, it is imperative that the project is not approved.

The legal basis of the environmental impact assessment (in Germany) is the law on environmental impact assessment (UVPG). It contains, among other things, Annex 1 with the list of projects that are subject to EIA (e.g. construction and operation of a system for generating electricity ...), Annex 3 with the preliminary test criteria for projects that are not clearly defined and subject to EIA, and Annex 5 (List of plans and programs that are subject to SEA (SEA: Strategic Environmental Assessment )) with the associated preliminary assessment criteria in Annex 6. It is not always possible to clearly assign the projects mentioned in the annexes to the terms used in the specialist laws (example: Project under nuclear law ), so that the licensing authority must, in their opinion, classify the project with regard to its EIA obligation.

In addition to the application documents for a project, the basis for an environmental impact assessment is the environmental impact assessment (UVS) prepared by the applicant or - as a rule - his or her expert.

The UVU not only describes the project, including the technical processes, but also first records the initial ecological situation as a basis for the investigation. The inventory of the ecological initial data for the individual environmental areas or protected goods is carried out on the basis of the results of special expert reports and generally accessible information / data that can also be made available by the authority.

For plans (such as development plans ) and programs, an assessment procedure based on the EIA has existed in Germany (and the other EU Member States) since 2004, the environmental assessment (UP) and the strategic environmental assessment SUP. Here, the environmental impacts of planning works are determined and evaluated in order to then incorporate them into the planning decision.

Impact of the EIA

The environmental impact assessment has established itself as a central environmental policy instrument in Germany and other EU member states for more than 15 years. It is the standard test procedure for the ecological consequences of environmentally relevant projects, and since 2004 also for plans and programs. Although there are no statistics or empirically reliable studies on the number of environmental impact assessments carried out in Germany, it can be assumed that several thousand procedures have been carried out so far.

A major effect of the EIA obligation is the introduction of the zero variant as a negative option in planning and project planning, as well as an increased flow of information to the citizens.

Planning-political aspects of the environmental impact assessment


Depending on the ideological background, the legal anchoring of this obligation was taken up differently in the Federal Republic of Germany. The two extreme positions and the intention of the legislature are as follows:

  • On the one hand, it is hoped that the EIA will provide the necessary variant studies (zero variant) in particular to find out whether a project is considered necessary at all or how a project should be modified in order to achieve greater overall benefit for the general public .
  • For project planners, the EIA is often just a formal hurdle that has to be overcome without any profound consequences for the project.
  • The aim of the legislature was to achieve the type of execution that was considered to be the most generally acceptable for a project and to accept that this could lead to a mandatory project waiver. The latter is one of the main points of criticism of the opponents of the EIA, who see it as prevention planning.


In Austria, the value of the EIA procedure as a procedure with citizen participation goes beyond a “formal hurdle”. Often plans are changed - sometimes very intensively - in order to be able to survive in a subsequent EIA. Even after this procedure has been carried out, further changes, additions or optimization of the planning may be necessary due to official requirements, which is usually the rule in practice. In addition to the general environmental impact in the "operational case" (implemented planning), the "construction production" (construction of the planned project) is also assessed. Especially in infrastructure planning (especially road planning and rail planning), alternatives to the submitted project must often be examined, presented and justified in great detail.

  • Criticism of the EIA from the point of view of those affected by the planning: accusation that citizens' wishes are not sufficiently taken into account, accusation of a formal hurdle, an alibi procedure, ...
  • Criticism of the EIA from the point of view of the project applicant: usually significantly higher costs in the planning, extension of the planning time due to various deadlines in the procedure, effects on budgetary and time planning due to unpredictable regulatory requirements, follow-up costs for the construction, ...

In nuclear licensing procedures, there is an overlap between the EIA Directive, which prescribes an EIA for such projects, and the Euratom Treaty, which in Art. 37 requires mandatory reporting with regard to emissions (water, soil, air) (e.g. Operation and dismantling of a nuclear power plant , uranium enrichment , final storage of radioactive waste), in the area of ​​cross-border participation by authorities and the public.


  • E. Gassner: Law on Environmental Impact Assessment. Comment. 1st edition. CF Müller, Heidelberg 2006, ISBN 3-8114-8019-7 .
  • Heinz-Joachim Peters, Stefan Balla (eds.): Law on environmental impact assessment. Hand comment. 3. Edition. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2006, ISBN 3-8329-1721-7 .
  • Peter-Christoph Storm, Thomas Bunge: Manual of the environmental impact assessment . Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-503-02709-5 .
  • P.-B. Nagel: News on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) - A short report from the 12th EIA Congress in Bad Honnef . In: ANLiegen Natur . tape 36 , no. 2 . Laufen 2014, p. 93–96 ( bayern.de [PDF; 400 kB ]).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ World Bank: OP 4.01 - Environmental Assessment , January 1999.
  2. ^ Proposal COM (2012) 628 .
  3. Press release of the European Commission IP / 12/1158 of October 26, 2012.
  4. 814.011: Ordinance on the environmental impact assessment. on: admin.ch
  5. B. Heuel-Fabianek, R. Lennartz: The examination of the environmental compatibility of projects in nuclear law. In: StrahlenschutzPRAXIS. No. 3, 2009. (Full article researchgate.net ).
  6. P. Appel: Implementation of an environmental impact study using the example of a thermal waste treatment plant. In: B. Heuel-Fabianek, H.-J. Schwefer, J. Schwab (ed.): Environmental compatibility in waste management. Springer, 1998, ISBN 3-540-63732-X , pp. 59-70.
  7. B. Heuel-Fabianek, E. Kümmerle, M. Möllmann-Coers, R. Lennartz: The relevance of Article 37 of the Euratom Treaty for the dismantling of nuclear reactors. In: atw - International Journal for Nuclear Power. No. 6, 2008. ( www.fz-juelich.de ( Memento from July 22, 2012 in the Internet Archive ))