The purpose of environmental assessments is to gather information, involve the public and ultimately to support sustainable development. Environmental assessments are implemented to maintain human and environmental health by examining the implications a proposed project may have on the biophysical, social and economic components (Alberta Government, 2013). Certain regulations pertaining to environmental affairs are in place to regulate activities and to promote informed decision making (National Environmental Management Act, 1998).
The National Environmental Management Act (1998) refers to the environment as being the “surroundings within which humans exist and that are made
i. the land, water and atmosphere of the earth;
ii. microorganisms, plant and animal life;
iii. any part or combination of (i) and (ii) and the interrelationships among and
between them; and
iv. the physical, chemical, aesthetic and cultural properties and conditions of the
foregoing that influence human health and wellbeing.”
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT, 2004) on the other hand defines the environment as the “biophysical, social and economic components, as well as the connections within and between these components”.
The Oxford Dictionary (n.d.) refers to an impact as “a marked effect or influence”.
The Oxford Dictionary (n.d.) refers to assessment as “the action of assessing someone or something”.
Carroll and Turpin (2009) defines environmental impact assessment as “a procedure which serves to provide information to local authority planners, other regulators and authorising bodies, other interested parties and the general public about certain proposed developments and their likely effects on the environment”.
1.2. Brief History
Prior to the 1960’s human populations use to have a primitive mind set regarding the management of the environment and did not generally consider the environment’s need to be well managed. Many thought of the environment as being self sustaining.
Irresponsible and uncontrolled utilisation of the environment resulted in some dire environmental conditions such as water contamination, pollution terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric etc (DWA (a), n.d.). Between the 1960’s and 70’s the environmental impact assessments process was initiated to make information regarding environmental matters available for subsequent decision making (Collins, 2001).
At the beginning of the 1970’s this shifted many people’s mindset to conservation of the environment and its resources (DWA (a), n.d.). As the role of EIAs in planning development was not clear, the South African Council for the Environment established a committee in 1984 to address this issue. The committee made sure that environmental issues were integrated into all development planning (Collins, 2001).
In 1998 the National Environmental Management Act...