Screening: Preliminary Step in Environmental Impact Assessment

Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA, 1997) defines EIA-Environmental Impact Assessment in section 2(xi) as “An environmental study comprising of collection of data, prediction of qualitative and quantitative impacts, comparison of alternatives, evaluation of preventive, mitigatory and compensatory measures, formulation of environmental management and training plans and monitoring arrangements, and framing of recommendations and such other components as may be prescribed.” The EIA process starts with screening. In case the project requires an EIA then the next step is scoping. Next an EIA report is prepared and subjected to review. Once the review of EIA report is completed, it is subjected to the process of decision-making. The basic steps of EIA are the same in almost all the countries however the unique framework of a country’s EIA system and administrative, legal, cultural and political systems creates differences between the EIA process and its outcomes among various countries. The different stages of EIA process have been studied by few authors and each one found EIA practices to be unsatisfactory.

Screening Process

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Screening is the process to decide, whether or not to conduct an environmental impact assessment process for the proposed activity. It considers the overall importance of the combined environmental impacts of the action. Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997(PEPA) in section 12.1 stated that, “No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed with the Federal Agency an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) or, where the project is likely to cause an adverse effect, an environmental impact assessment approval has been obtained from the Federal agency in respect thereof” (PEPA, 1997). Pakistan EPA has divided proposed development projects into two categories for carrying out environmental screening.

Projects under Schedule I require IEE, and those under Schedule II require full-fledged EIA. Schedule I includes processing industries, transport infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and fisheries, power houses, dams, water supply, water treatment plants, solid waste disposal (landfills) and urban development.  Schedule II includes most of the projects under schedule I on a more large scale excluding agriculture, livestock and fisheries. The cost of the project and its size decide whether EIA or IEE is required along with the estimation of probable environmental impacts resulting from the implementation of the project. For instance, hydropower generation project with a total capacity of less than 50MW requires an IEE and EIA is required if it is above 50MW.

Pak-EPA makes the decision whether EIA is required or not in case of private project, while in case of public sector project it’s planning and Development department or proponent agency’s call to take the decision. Any project whether included in Schedule I and II are required to undergo IEE by EPA. Projects that are not under both schedules due to their insignificant impacts are required to provide an undertaking that the guidelines and NEQs shall be fully considered. Although it is suggested worldwide that screening schedules shall be revised periodically but in Pakistan interviews of consultants and officials revealed that there is an urgent need to improvise schedules but no progress is yet seen in this matter. Mineral extraction and large housing schemes’ projects are included in Schedule I requiring IEE, while these should undergo EIA. This is creating immense problem as proponents of such projects are not easily convinced by EPA officials to submit EIA report.