Austria revises impact assessment rules

Government supported by business association, criticised by regional law officers

The Austrian government has announced plans for new rules on environmental impact assessment (EIA) of major projects, under legal pressure from the EU. A 1997 directive amending the original 1985 EU law should have been transposed by all member states by March 1999. Earlier this year, the European Commission decided to send Austria a reasoned opinion - the final warning before court action - for failure to comply (ENDS Daily 29 February).

The new Austrian law will introduce two different types of EIA; a standard one that can take up to nine months and a less intensive version allowed to last six months only. The rules differ substantially from existing law. Short EIAs will not oblige an environmental assessment declaration and authorities will only be required to make an "accumulative" assessment of impacts rather than an analysis of individual elements.

The government has described the new law as a "reasonable step towards a more efficient protection of the environment". The proposal has also been supported by Austrian Chamber of Commerce, which said it was "time to abolish unnecessary paragraphs". Licensing procedures will be shorter and easier to understand under the new rules, it says.

However, Austria's local law officers have criticised the plan in a joint statement, claiming that it is a backwards step for environmental protection. "The accumulative evaluation of effects on the environment is not sufficient at all," says Karin Büchl-Krammerstätter, environmental attorney in Vienna. The officers also oppose abolition of citizens' initiatives' right to have a legal status in licensing procedures, arguing that public participation should be encouraged.

In addition, the lawyers complain that some types of projects that currently require an EIA will not do so under the new law. The limit for poultry units was 42,000 chickens, but will now be 48,000; for pig farms the limit will be 2,400 animals rather than 1,400.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 51 52 20; Austrian chamber of commerce, tel: +43 1 50 10 50; Vienna environmental attorney's office, tel: +43 1 37 97 90.

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