ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS (EIS) REGULATIONS
One of the most important tools in the land-use planning process is the EIS. EISs have been used in Israel from the mid-1970s; regulations governing the requirements of EISs were promulgated under the Planning and Building Law in 1982.
The regulations specify four kinds of projects for which an EIS is mandatory: power stations, airports, ports and hazardous waste disposal sites. The regulations also urge the preparation of an EIS for landing strips, marinas, national water supply arteries, dams and reservoirs, wastewater treatment plants, quarries, waste disposal sites and industrial plants situated outside designated industrial zonesif the planning authority considers that significant environmental impacts may occur beyond the immediate vicinity of the project. In practice, regional planning authorities regard this recommendation as mandating an EIS, since all such projects have significant impact beyond the immediate vicinity.
In addition, any planning authority (national, district or local) may require an EIS on any plan expected to have environmental implications, and every ministerial representative on the national or district planning levels may require an EIS for any plan under discussion. Since the Ministry of the Environment is represented on the national and district planning authorities, it can exercise its right to require an EIS if the authorities themselves do not do so.
The regulations call for EISs to be prepared in accordance with guidelines, formally issued by the planning authority but prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. The ministry invests special efforts in the preparation of appropriate plan-specific guidelines to ensure that the EIS, when submitted, will be a useful tool to decision-makers. Experience over the past few years shows that specifically-tailored guidelines produce useful EIS documents, which are not hampered by generalized, irrelevant data.
An EIS includes five sections as follows:
1. A description of the environment to which the plan relates, prior to the development activities.
2. Specification of the reasons for preference of the proposed site of the plan and its activities.
3. A description of the activities resulting from implementation of the proposed plan.
4. Specification and assessment of the projected environmental impact resulting from the implementation of the plan.
5. Presentation of EIS findings and proposed conditions to be included in the plan regulations.
The developer is responsible for preparing the EIS in accordance with the guidelines prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. While the regulations do not specify how an EIS should be reviewed, the Ministry of the Environment has examined all EISs since 1987. Experts at the ministry evaluate each EIS and issue an opinion which includes a summary of the main findings of the EIS, the ministry’s conclusions about the assessment, and a list of recommendations for the planning authority. In almost every case, the planning authority welcomes the professional advice it receives from the Ministry of the Environment and incorporates all of its recommendations in its decision concerning the plan.
Implementation of the EIS System
Over the years, there has been a constant rise in EISs required by planning agencies. From the time the system began operating until the end of 1993, 248 EISs had been commissioned: 47 for roads, parking centers and associated facilities; 31 for waste disposal sites or waste transfer stations; 39 for industries; 29 for quarries; 20 for power stations; 13 for ports or marinas; 15 for wastewater treatment; 16 for tourism, recreation and sport; and the remaining distributed among railway lines, water works, residential and commercial projects, public institutions, airports and landing grounds and marine facilities. About 70% of the EISs are prepared for public projects and infrastructure rather than privately- initiated development (Figures x and x).
While EISs for major urban and interurban roads are not included in the statutory list, planning authorities nevertheless require the preparation of EISs for these projects. In fact, roads and associated facilities form the largest group of EISs required.
In 1993, the scope of activities within the system increased substantially
(by about 50%) in comparison to previous years. In 1993 alone, 49 guidelines for EISs were prepared (as opposed to 37 in 1992 and 28 in 1991), and 38 EISs were received (as opposed to 26 in 1992 and 20 in 1990). The most dominant subjects for which EISs were required were: roads, industrial areas, quarrying, wastewater treatment, power stations and energy production.
Following are a few notable examples of the implementation of the EIS process in recent years:
* In planning for the central section of the Trans-Israel Highway, a two-stage EIS process was initiated for the first time in Israel: assessment of alternative alignments on the macro level in the first stage, and preparation of an EIS for the preferred alternative on a micro level at a later stage. This adheres to the growing awareness that the EIS should be introduced as early in the planning process as possible.
* In the case of industrial areas, the EIS reviews the suitability of the area for industrial development and places restrictions on the introduction of industrial plants. Since, at the time of preparation, it is not known which specific plants will be part of the industrial area, the EIS relates to infrastructure requirements such as sewage facilities.
* An EIS for a gas turbine complex in the Hagit area (south of Haifa) was presented in 1993. In this case, recommendations of the Ministry of the Environment on measures for minimizing adverse impacts were incorporated into the environmental regulations of the plan itself. Conditions and restrictions imposed on the Israel Electric Corporation related to the prevention of air and groundwater pollution.
* Submission of an EIS for an Alexander River National Park resulted in the introduction of various changes to the plan meant to reduce environmental nuisances (e.g. noise) and to promote the preservation of natural values such as sand dunes. These restrictions found expression in the restriction of commercial enterprises and parking areas.
Today, planning agencies view the EIS as a credible and reliable process that helps them analyze and resolve environmental conflicts. Developers are wont to favor the process because it helps them present an environmentally-sound plan to a more environmentally-aware public, and the public uses it as a basic document upon which to base objections. Moreover, green organizations have begun using EIS requirements as a tool in their struggle against large-scale projects deemed to have major environmental repercussions. In the case of a now-defunct plan to build a Voice of America (VOA) transmission station in the Arava area, an appeal to the High Court of Justice led to a unanimous ruling which stated that no decision should be taken on the VOA complex before an EIS is completed in a comprehensive and professional manner. In a recent ruling on a petition by non- governmental green organizations to order the preparation of a comprehensive EIS for the entire Trans-Israel Highway, the High Court of Justice ordered the relevant authorities to explain why a complete EIS was not commissioned for the road.
In light of the growing use of EISs in Israel, the Ministry of the Environment compiled a list of Israeli consultants on EIS preparation. Over the last decade, the number of professional consultants on EISs has grown to about 200.
Future Directions in EIS Implementation
The EIS has proved to be a highly effective tool for a limited number of complex projects in which severe environmental impacts are anticipated and the plan is sufficiently detailed for the impacts to be identified and forecasted. The EIS is not an appropriate tool for checking multiple small plans whose cumulative environmental impact may be significant. For smaller-scale proposals, representatives of the Ministry of the Environment evaluate accumulated effects and make recommendations to the planning authorities; in most cases, their advice is accepted and incorporated into the planning decision.
In an effort to improve the EIS process, the Ministry of the Environment commissioned a review of EIS activities over the past decade. The review, recently completed, focuses on seven test cases, from initiation to implementation, as well as on the results of six workshops with the participation of professionals from various fields, including planners, environmentalists and lawyers.
Israel is currently considering widening its use of EISs to encompass additional areas, such as commercial centers, fuel and hazardous substances sites and specific industries. Because EISs are prepared during the initial designation of sites for industrial purposes, they usually do not cover specific industries within such areas. While several local planning authorities do require non- statutory EISs when they suspect that an industrial proposal may adversely impact the environment, the failure of national regulations to require EISs for building permits for industrial plants should be remedied. In the meantime, environmental assessment of specific industries is carried out within the framework of the Licensing of Businesses Law, which allows for the incorporation of environmental conditions into business licenses.
Ways are also being sought to incorporate environmental assessments at an earlier stage in the planning process, before the plan is submitted for approval. A recent development may provide the groundwork for such change in the future. An amendment to the Planning and Building Law (in force since April 1994) regulates, for the first time, consideration of the environmental nuisances which may arise from the paving of roads and railways and the construction of bridges, interchanges and tunnelsbefore grant of a permit. The law, enacted in order to accelerate the timetables for preparation and approval of road plans, obligates developers to submit road and other related plans to representatives of the Minister of the Environment in District Commissions prior to submission of the plan for approval. The representative may then require preparation of an EIS which, along with the environmental opinion of the Ministry of the Environment, is then attached to the plan when it is submitted for approval to the District Commission.
The model provided by the approval process for road plans may well serve as a model for the presentation of EISs at earlier stages of planning for other projects as well. Such a process requires active interaction with developers at the earliest stages of
planning. Efforts are currently being focused on introducing environmental requirements, both in public and private projects, in the initial stages of planning. A notable example is the tourism sector where environmental consultants are included in the preparation of tourism development plans from the outset.