South Africa's new environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations came into effect on Monday, which the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said started the official implementation process of a new regime aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of EIAs.
The National Environmental Management Act (Nema) EIA 2010 regulations and the listing notices thereto replaced the Nema EIA regulations of 2006 and its associated listing notices.
The revised regulations were said to be the result of a consultation process and were published by Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica in Government Gazette 33306 of June 18, 2010.
The DEA said that the new regulations introduced an approach where impacts associated with the sensitivity of the receiving environment are treated with more care - this was achieved through the introduction of a Listing Notice dedicated to activities planned for predefined sensitive areas.
The lists of activities requiring environmental authorisation prior to starting have also been revised. This was a major focus of the amendment process as the EIA system was overburdened by large numbers of applications associated with insignificant activities.
The comprehensive, and often expensive scoping process and environmental impact report (EIR) was in some instances unjustifiably required for activities for which the impacts were known and thereby potential entrepreneurs could be excluded from the economy, said the DEA, and some critical activities requiring EIAs were omitted.
In terms of timeframes for handling EIAs, there was previously no consequence for the authority when it did not meet the regulatory time frames - under the new regulations it was compelled to reach a decision on the information it has after a reasonable prescribed extension to the regulated time frames have lapsed.
It was emphasised that the regulated time frames have not been extended and it would be indicated that the time frame has not been met even if the decision is forthcoming in the extension automatically obtained.
In terms of public consultation, amendments have been effected to ensure a fair process. For example, the period from December 15 to January 2, has been excluded from public consultation processes and in the counting of days for both decisions and lodging of appeals.
The amendments to the regulations could be accessed on the Department's website.
EIAs were aimed at identifying, assessing and investigating potential environmental impacts both positive and negative associated with certain activities and developments.