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Editorial

EIA - Strengthening the role of the public

Among other things, the recent amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act has broadened the rights of (what is termed) the "affected public". The affected public consists primarily of various citizens' initiatives pursuing environmental or public-health purposes. It may for instance file an appeal against a negative decision at the screening stage (i.e., a decision according to which the given project does not require the issuance of an EIA report), and seek its annulment in court. The affected public has been granted a stronger voice also in subsequent procedures in which the fate of a building project is being decided: zoning proceedings and the proceedings on the issuance of a building permit. Taken together, these legislative changes may make it more difficult to implement projects which require an EIA report; in particular, the length of permission proceedings may be substantially extended.


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On 1 April 2015, an amendment to the EIA Act came into force.  Among the many changes it brings, one should note new rights afforded to the "affected public" in EIA and subsequent proceedings, which also include the right to have recourse to court protection.  Taken together, these legislative changes may make it more difficult to implement projects which require an EIA report; in particular, the length of permission proceedings may be substantially extended. Aside from those whose rights and obligations may be directly affected by a given building project, the "affected public" also includes various citizens' initiatives established in order to protect the environment or public health. Accordingly, the affected public has now been granted rights for environmental or public-health purposes, such as the right to appeal a negative conclusion to the screening procedure according to which the project in question requires no EIA report, and the right to file court action aimed at quashing such a decision. In other words, the permission process may now become stalled even at the EIA stage.

 

However, the amendment has at the same time also strengthened the rights of the affected public in subsequent procedures in which the fate of a building project is being decided, such as zoning proceedings and proceedings on the issuance of a building permit. Entities from the ranks of the affected public are entitled to the status of participant in these proceedings, which includes the right to file appeals against decisions handed down. The scope of court protection has also been expanded: previously, citizens' initiatives could only challenge decisions on the grounds of a violation of their procedural rights. Now, they may also raise objections as to the substance of those decisions (i.e., challenge them on their merits). Moreover, if the court were to find that implementation of a given building project entails the risk of grave environmental damage, it may grant the public lawsuit suspensive effect, thus stalling implementation of a project at least until the public lawsuit has been decided.

 

In this manner, the amendment has put powerful tools into the hands of the affected public with which citizens may (at the very least) substantially delay implementation of building projects.  We will have to wait for practical experience with the amendment to see to what extent these institutions newly incorporated in the EIA Act will be abused by citizens' initiatives, and in particular whether transportation infrastructure projects and other large-scale developments (which may be especially affected by the amendment) may actually be brought to a complete standstill.

 

Mgr. Tereza Chalupová, lawyer, Associate

tereza.chalupova@bnt.eu

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