When Is an Environmental Assessment Needed?

Nuclear Power Plant With Yellow Field and Big Blue Clouds in Germany
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An environmental assessment is a study required to establish all the impacts either positive or negative about one particular project. It will consist of technical evaluation, economic impact and social results that the project will bring. The environmental assessment will have to:

  • Identify possible environmental effects;
  • Propose measurements to mitigate adverse effects;
  • Predict whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, even after the mitigation is implemented.

Environmental site assessments are not used to identify the nature and extent of contaminants on a specific site. It is important to highlight that environmental audits are used to evaluate the environmental management and regulatory compliance of any particular operation not through environmental assessments.

Deciding Whether It's Needed

An environmental assessment study is a complex one and will depend on several factors and variables to get the most comprehensive document. Usually, the design engineer will determine if you need one depending on the scope and type of work being proposed. In other instances, the government can also require an environmental assessment to comply with local or federal laws and regulations. 

Who's Responsible

It will be the responsible authority who will notify other agencies their participation. They will also bring their expert information and data. The agency or party responsible for the study will establish a scope of the project, the factors that must be considered and the expected timeframe to deliver the study. The environmental technician will gather data, conduct interviews and research on the impact zones. Then he will be able to identify the potential environmental effects and measures to mitigate those effects.

The Findings of the Report

The responsible agency or agencies will then review the findings of the report for adequacy and accuracy. They will verify against other assessments, earlier reports, and historical data to verify the integrity of the report. After all the review process has been completed, the agencies or manager will decide whether the environmental effects are significant or are minimal. Based on this information the project will continue its course, it will require modification, or it will end here.

How and When Will the Mitigation and Follow-Up Plan Occur

If the project has the go-ahead, then the mitigation measures should start immediately. The mitigation, which was also part of the original assessment, must be incorporated into drawings, plans, and implements with the project. As part of the environmental assessment sometimes is required having a follow-up plan, that will assure that all the necessary processes are being implemented and that there are no other impacts than the ones already studied.

Projects That Normally Require an Environmental Assessment

Although there is no solid answer or direct answer to this question, based on experience and information processed by the agencies, we would recommend EA for the following projects:

  • Power Plants
  • Natural Gas Projects
  • Industrial Projects
  • Chemical Manufacturing Plants
  • Metal Processing Plants
  • Mine and Coal Projects
  • Quarries and Sand and Gravel Pits
  • Energy Projects, Including Power Plants, Transmission Lines, Substations, and Related Power Generation Projects
  • Water Management Projects
  • Dams
  • Projects Located in or Near Wetlands
  • Projects on Which Groundwater Extraction Is Being Planned
  • Projects That Require Extensive Impact of Vegetation and Locate in Forest Property
  • Waste Management Plants
  • Wastewater Facilities
  • Food Processing Facilities
  • Transportation Projects, Including but Not Limited to Highways, Marine Ports or Dredging

As you can see, many projects will require EA, although not all of them will need to complete the whole process. The designated authority will be the one making the final determination in regards to ​requirements and exceptions.