Austria moves towards EIA law revision

Three procedures to be created for larger, smaller, projects plus projects in sensitive areas

Austria's environment ministry has published a new draft proposal to amend rules on environmental impact assessment (EIA) in line with EU law. Under the proposal, which is due to be debated in the Austrian parliament next month, three alternative EIA procedures will be created.

Under an "ordinary" procedure, assessments will have to be completed in nine months, compared with an 18-month limit currently in force. Neighbours, community and citizens' groups and environmental barristers will have specific rights of involvement in the EIA process.

Two "streamlined" EIA procedures will also be created. The first will have a maximum limit of six months for completion of the process and is intended for small plants and projects. Only neighbours and environmental barristers will have rights as a legal party.

A third procedure will apply for smaller projects in environmentally sensitive areas, such as national parks and protected sites. The exact implications of the provision remains unclear at present because the term "protected area" is interpreted differently in each of Austria's nine provinces.

The new rules are intended to implement a 1997 EU directive on EIA, which amended the original 1985 law to extend the range of projects for which EIAs have to be carried out. The legal deadline for transposition of the law by all EU members is March next year.

In a separate development, the ministry has published a review of Austrian experience with EIA since national rules implementing the EU's 1985 directive entered into force in July 1994. The report concludes that industry fears earlier this decade that the law would stifle development have not been realised.

Only some 20 EIAs have been initiated since 1994. The five that have been completed lasted between seven and 20 months. "Our experience shows very clearly that EIA does not delay any approval of a plant, the report's author Waltraud Petek told ENDS Daily. "We have [also] learned that the better the information on a project, the shorter will be time for approval. People do accept intention of building earlier when they do know more on the plant or whatever will be built."

The report reveals that there have been 12 legal challenges to EIAs carried out in Austria, caused by the country's late transposition of the 1985 EIA directive, which meant that no national law governed procedures performed before 1994 even though the EU directive was already in force. Brought by the European Commission, the complaints were dropped earlier this year, according to the report, following Austrian arguments that the procedures did, in fact, meet minimum standards.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment ministry, tel: +43 1 515220.

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