EIA: size doesn’t matter, rules European Court of Justice
Projects cannot be excluded from the requirement to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the grounds of their size alone, according to a ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) this week.
The Court found that Ireland had not effectively transposed the directive on EIA, because its national legislation set a size threshold for certain projects, below which they were exempted from EIA requirements.
The Court upheld the European Commission’s charge that such thresholds ignore cumulative effects, and would enable developers to avoid EIA requirements by splitting projects into smaller sections. Also, assessing projects on size alone, fails to take into account their specific nature and location, since even small projects could have a significant environmental impact if located in particularly sensitive areas.
The types of project covered by this case were use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agricultural purposes, initial afforestation/land reclamation, and extraction of peat.
The Court said the Commission had put forward several convincing examples of projects which, whilst considered solely in relation to their size, may none the less have significant effects on the environment by reason of their nature or location.
“The most significant example is afforestation because, when carried out in areas of active blanket bog, it entails, by its nature and location, the destruction of the bog ecosystem and the irreversible loss of biotopes that are original, rare and of great scientific interest. In itself, it may also cause the acidification or eutrophication of waters,” says the ECJ judgement.
Ireland has not denied that no project for the extraction of peat, covered by point 2(a) of Annex II to the Directive, has been the subject of an impact assessment, although small-scale peat extraction has been mechanised, industrialised and considerably intensified, resulting in the unremitting loss of areas of bog of nature conservation importance.