Environmental impact assessment (EIA) entails a multifaceted appraisement of the possible aftermath caused by a project or action on the surrounding man-made and natural environment (Wood, 2003). This systematic process requires the involvement of all interested stakeholders in the process and the public, in order to achieve a widespread consent on the planned project and mitigation strategies proposed [European Commission (EC), 2014].
EIA was firstly presented in the United States (US) in 1969 under the National Environmental Policy Act, in order to aid the decision making and planning processes, while in Europe was adopted in 1985 with the name of European Union Directive (85/337/EEC) on Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA Directive (ibidem). Since then it has been amended in 1997, 2003, 2009 and in 2013, although a final comment and approval from the EC is still expected [European Parliament (EP), 2013].
The EIA Directive aims to be integrative of all interested actors and to make a wide range of projects sustainable, in order to protect the environment, enhance the quality of life and reduce any friction between planners, developers and local communities [European Union (EU), 2009]. It is a process constituted by different stages from screening to evaluating and monitoring the impacts of the project implemented (Wood, 2003).
Referring to practical cases, this paper analyses all stages of the EIA Directive; furthermore it explores whether public participation is considered in each phase of the assessment and it explains why the public is involved only at certain stages of the EIA.
The stages of the EIA process include screening, scoping, impact prediction, evaluation and mitigation, decision-making and, finally, monitoring the approved project, in order to record all variables related to development impacts (Glasson et al, 1999). These should guarantee the rights of access to information and justice in environmental matters as well as actively include the public in decision-making, according to Rio 1992 Conference on Environment and Development and the Århus Convention 1998 (Doelle & Sinclair, 2006).
Screening is the step of EIA concerned with exploring and evaluating the likely environmental impacts and their magnitude (Glasson et al, 1999). It might be carried out either by setting general thresholds determining which action should be assessed or by analysing case by case each project or both of them concurrently (Wood, 2003; Glasson et al, 1999). Screening allows limiting the number of projects/actions that would be otherwise assessed and focusing on those ones with considerable negative effects on the concerned site (ibidem). According to the Article 2 of the EIA Directive the Member States should screen all projects likely to affect the environment “by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to a requirement for development consent and an assessment with regard to their effects.” (EU, 2009:Art.2). These...