An environmental assessment and review (EAR) procedure : a contribution to comprehensive land-use planning
Over the past twenty years environmental impact assessment (EIA) has proved to be a useful tool in many countries to evaluate the positive and negative effects of implementing development projects. It also became a key tool to support environmental decision-making. Many lessons can be learned from past experience, including that there could be some advantages in extending the EIA concept to policy and planning levels. In so doing, many difficulties that arise when assessing negative impacts at the project level might be overcome, or at least minimized. Some countries already provide examples of the application of EIA to policy and plans. However, difficulties exist for two key reasons. First when addressing policies and plans, an EIA approach similar to project EIA is being used. Given differences in terms of content and detailed approaches when comparing policies and plans with projects, it is likely that a different form of EIA should be used. Second, it is increasingly recognized that an integration of environmental issues in policy-making and planning processes is required to enable environmentally sound policy and planning decisions to be made. A procedure to assess environmental impacts in the comprehensive land-use planning process, which is also applicable at the policy level, is proposed. In this procedure it is assumed that an integration of environmental issues in the planning process must occur so that a more environmentally sound planning practice occurs. This step is fundamental at this level of action to allow an environmental assessment and review approach to be used in a way that is integrated with the planning process, but which adopts a flexible and adaptive nature, to help achieve more sustainable planning practice. International experience is considered, both in relation to recent legal and procedural advancements and case-study analysis. Two case-studies in Portugal, which address a regional and a municipal plan, and the simulation by the use of an independent experts commission in the environmental assessment and review process are presented before conclusions are drawn.