Environmental Authorisations – Tips to secure accurate submissions

Posted on 10 Mar 2021

In order to assist potential applicants, environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) and interested and affected parties (I&APs) to understand what is required of them in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations, the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (now known as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries) has provided an Integrated Environmental Management Guideline Series.

 

The Guideline Series was however last updated in 2006, before the promulgation of the EIA Regulations of 2014 and the subsequent amendment in 2017. Environmental Assurance (Pty) Ltd (hereafter referred to as ENVASS) has therefore compiled a list of tips for securing an accurate submission when applying for environmental authorisations (EA).

 

Timely communication with the competent authority (CA) is one of the most important factors of a successful submission. A pre-application meeting will outline the process and expectations from the competent authority. The meeting must be adequately prepared for and documented in the form of meeting minutes. Any uncertainties with regards to the process, specialist studies, templates, submission copies and format, and public participation process (PPP) requirements should be clarified during the pre-application meeting. Meeting minutes should be forwarded and approved by the CA as an agreement of what was discussed.

 

Utilization of the Screening Tool to identify sensitivity themes and specialist studies required. Specialist studies should be confirmed with the CA and where specialist studies are deemed not required for the proposed development, the authorities related to the studies should be consulted to advise on the requirements before and during the PPP Processes. Comments received from these authorities should be documented and included into the submission to supplement the motivation of excluding a specialist study.

 

Regulated timelines provided in the EIA Regulations should be documented and updated as the process advances. Submission dates, PPP dates, report writing timeframes as well as CA decision making timeframes should be captured and frequently visited to ensure deadlines are not missed. Late submissions will not be accepted by the CA. In the event of expected delays, the EAP must apply for an extension, as required by the EIA Regulations, with the reason for extension detailed in the application for extension. The decision for granting or refusing an extension will be made by the CA based on reasons provided for the request for extension. Should the extension be refused, it is expected that the submissions will be made on time, or the application process will lapse. This will require a new application to be submitted with new timelines in effect from the day the Application Form is submitted.

 

An inclusive PPP remains one of the most important aspects of any EA application. The EIA Regulations provide guidelines for conducting PPP, however, these guidelines provide the minimum requirements. Additional initiatives should be considered based on the impacts of the proposed development, the adjacent communities present, adjacent operations, the zoning of the property and surrounding properties, land claims lodged, and ownership of the property and surrounding property to name only a few aspects. When communities are investigated, literacy, access (travel restraints) and cultural aspects must be considered. If the EAP is unsure of the PPP process to be followed, consultation with a community liaison officer will in most cases prove helpful. Examples of measures taken to ensure an inclusive PPP will include the following:

 

  • Advertisements and site notices in more than one language (local language).
  • Handing out pamphlets in the local communities.
  • Public Meetings with a translator.
  • Public Open Days.
  • Virtual Public Meetings.
  • Focus Groups.
  • Provision of transport to meetings.
  • Attendance of Forum Meetings.

 

Reports must be completed within the required timeframe allowing for reviews, sign offs, corrections, printing, binding and courier services (where required). Procrastination will lead to late submissions and lapsed applications. The reports must be completed in line with the requirements of the EIA Regulations and/or departmental templates.

 

Implementing the tips above will secure an accurate and on time submission. The tips will however not secure a favourable outcome of the decision from the CA. The responsibility of the EAP is to manage the application for EA by taking all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the EIA Regulations and perform work relating to the application in an objective manner, even if the results in views and findings that are not favourable to the application, disclose all material information.