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Managing Uncertainty in EIA Assessment Answer

Research report , 3000 words

First, choose a topic:  managing uncertainty in EIA 

Second, drawing on a wide range of international sources, develop criteria for best practice EIA specifically tailored to your topic.

Third, critically review a project case study that has undergone full EIA in WA* against your criteria, highlighting the extent to which there is conformance with your best practice criteria. This includes discussing relative strengths and weaknesses and exploring to what extent did the EIA process carried out for your case study represent an example of "best practice" for your chosen topic.

Ideas for assignment

Evidence-based argument: The assignment is a scientific and academic undertaking, meaning that all arguments should be supported with evidence. With respect to criteria development and application, this means engaging with the international EIA literature along with all relevant EIA institutional and case study materials.

Research effort and sources: At a minimum you are expected to engage with at least

Five international EIA sources;

Relevant sections of the Environmental Protection Act WA 1986, EIA Administrative Procedures WA and supporting EIA guidance published by the EPA WA; and

Five documents produced in relation to your case study.

Be critical: When assessing the case study documents you should take a critical approach. Do not simply summarise the content of the EIA documents. You should concentrate upon the substantive content of the materials and the quality of the arguments presented and the EIA approaches and techniques that have been used. Do not hold back from criticising or praising either, but do give some consideration to the inevitable divergence between the ideal and what can be achieved in practice.

It is recommended that you start by reviewing your chosen EIA 'topic' in the published literature and establishing some kind of guide or criteria for best practice. After all, you can only 'critique' something if you have some appropriate standard to apply or measure to compare against. Justify and support your discussion and derived criteria with reference to the international EIA literature. Your criteria should be developed in such a way that they could be applied to any case study taking place in any EIA system, as represented by the institutional arrangements for EIA process, anywhere in the world. In other words, the "principles of EIA" are universal and are not meant to be project or jurisdiction specific.

Criteria development: Success in the overall assignment is dependent upon the establishment of robust criteria in step 2 above. Make sure that the EIA topic you select for analysis and your derived criteria provide some meaningful discussion. For example if you choose something obvious that is a normal part EIA practice then there is nothing of interest to say in your subsequent discussion. For example, if public participation was one of the topics available to you, such as 'the EIA should be subjected to public review', you would quickly reach a dead end road because in nearly all jurisdictions worldwide there is a legal requirement for public review to occur, and certainly this is the case in WA. To continue with this hypothetical example, in comparison it would be far more interesting to learn to what extent the public consultation represents 'best practice' which you would need to appropriately define in some way or fulfills/breaches the principles of natural justice. Another example of an inappropriate criterion would be 'Cumulative effects are considered' because this does not communicate anything of meaning and substance; it would be much more interesting to learn whether cumulative effects were examined in appropriate detail and how this might influence decision-making during EIA and the outcomes of EIA!

Case study documentation: When selecting your project case study, be sure to choose a project that has undergone a full EIA process in recent years. Every EIA conducted in WA is held in the Murdoch Library and the EPA website increasingly makes available all documentation, at least for recently assessed proposals. A full EIA process means that it has had a Ministerial approval decision issued for it. Benchmark the case study against your best practice criteria. You must engage with the full suite of public documents produced during the EIA process for your case study (e.g. referral, scoping document, proponent's environmental review document, public submissions, proponent response to public submissions, EPA report, appeals (if relevant), and Ministerial statement, and also possibly environmental management plans and post-implementation reports). Consequently, choose your case study wisely and ensure you have access to appropriate documentation; there should be plenty of it available to you.

Applying your criteria (step 3): The focus here is on best practice EIA, so construct your discussion around this in the first instance.

Note: when evaluating the case study performance give consideration to any essential aspect of international best practice EIA that you have included in your criteria that you find to be missing from the EIA process in WA, as it is most likely that the proponent will not address it. Thus, you probably need to give some consideration to relevant aspects of the EIA institutional arrangements in WA that affect what happened in the case study project.

When applying your criteria to the case study, it is recommended to build your argument around best practice EIA considerations and not, for example, structures based on chronology or individual documents treated separately in turn. The logic for your discussion should follow the 'story' you are telling about best practice EIA principles. Identify particular strengths or weaknesses of the case study with respect to your best practice criteria from step 2, along with any suggestions for how the situation could be improved with respect to future EIA practice. your research report must include the following:

Abstract: not needed!

A descriptive title, i.e. write about your EIA topic 

An introduction, i.e. the background to and aims of your research;

A referenced account of the methods and data sources used to conduct your research;

An in-depth discussion of your best practice criteria;

Short context section about your case study;

Application of criteria on case study;

A concluding section; and

A list of references cited in the text.

The main body of your research report must be no longer than 3,000 words. This is all-inclusive except the title page, list of references, and potential appendices. Please note that I operate a strict word count policy.

It must be presented in a scientific (or 'report') style using author-date referencing with all materials properly referenced. You are encouraged to be creative regarding the effective and attractive design and presentation of your research work. For example, you may wish to include figures, tables or boxes in the main body of your research report. Ensure that all figures, tables or boxes are properly numbered and named, with a cross-reference within the text of your report, i.e. professional report writing standard is expected for all aspects of your writing.

References must be provided in the author-date format; this is the simplest and most wide-spread system in use. As the list of references attached to the end of your assignment does not form part of the word limit, you can afford to read and research widely and to utilise numerous references to support your work. To get a good grade, you are expected to research appropriately.

Reference everything! Do not leave major claims and statements unsupported. Also, learn how to cite and engage effectively with legal documents (such as the Environmental Protection Act WA 1986)

Answer

Research report

Topic: Managing Uncertainty in EIA

 Introduction

1.1 Background

The main reason for the “assessment of the environment” is to produce an understanding in the entirety of the topic to the stakeholders and decision-makers to strategize and manage the impacts. It is a process which undertakes research for managing the future implications of it. However, there are always uncertainties in the environmental assessment, which are unavoidable and must be faced for an effective environmental assessment and understand the changes in the trends and patterns of environmental change. This would enable the decision-makers to be informed, and the effectiveness of the methods would increase further (Fischer et al. 2016). According to Noble and Storey (2005), the uncertainties of the environmental assessment are largely due to the complex nature of the design along with the operation being vast for the developmental initiatives in addition to the inherent nature of environmental complexity. The assessment of nature is a complex affair as there are numerous condition and influencing factors of which the interrelationship and interdependency cannot be adjudged properly or the gaps in the response time which makes the uncertainty of assessment a potential part of EIA. According to Fischer et al. (2016), there are bound to be existent gaps in the knowledge of the EIA and the impacting question is how the uncertainties are addressed and communicated. According to Morrison-Saunders et al. (2016), the EA does not give necessary attention and credit to the uncertainties in the EIA, and there are very few research materials which also addresses the same. Hence, the aim of this project is to investigate the nature of uncertainty in the environmental assessment and how it affects the decision-making process of the stakeholders (Veronez & Montaño 2015). The extent of consideration of uncertainty will particularly be focused on West Australia for this research project. The Environmental Protection Plans (EPPs) and the Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) are reviewed and analysed for obtaining conclusive evidence to support the claim made in this project.

1.2 Research Aims and objectives

The aims of this research are to develop an understanding of managing the uncertainty of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a chosen case study by establishing best practice approaches.

Following are the research objectives:

  1. To establish best practice criteria in EIA
  2. To critically analyse a particular real-life case study based on the EIA best practice approaches
  3. To identify and manage the uncertainties existing in EIA approaches 
  4. To establish through proper conclusion the extent of addressing the uncertainties in EIA

Research methodology

2.1 Research approach:

There are two types of research approach which are the qualitative and quantitative research approach. The quantitative research approach uses numerical data as the basis for the research and analysis. The qualitative research method, however, uses the prior research for the validation and analysis of the objectives of this research. This project will make use of the qualitative research approach, which would enable the researcher to compare the existing literature to deduce and conclude the intended results of the research (Teherani et al. 2015). As there would not be any quantifiable data for gaps in the literature, the intangible nature of the research calls for the qualitative approach for the research project.

2.2 Research design:

The research would compare various articles, journals and publications to identify the extent they have addressed the uncertainties in the environmental impact assessment and intends to find the gaps in that literature to find the impact of the uncertainties in the environmental impact assessment. This would be done through the use of various secondary research designs which will enable the researcher to compare prior researches by various authors and help to ascertain the gaps in them which have not addressed uncertainty in the assessment of the environmental issues (Veronez & Montaño, 2015). The impact may have on the variability and accuracy of the research outcome will also be explored through the use of the secondary design.

2.3 Data collection process:

There are two types of data collection method. They are the primary data collection method in which the researcher directly obtains the data through the interviews, questionnaires etc. in which the researcher is directly involved (Lilley, 2016). The secondary method of data collection, however, makes use of the existing literature on the topic to arrive at a conclusion for the project. As the aim of this research is to find the uncertainties in the environmental assessment, the inclusion of the previous results is necessary, and so the second method would be the most appropriate method for it. It would equip the researcher with the conclusions and data of the previous researches in order to determine the accurate nature of the claim. However, the resources for the collection of the data should be from credible sources in order to arrive at a dependable conclusion for the aim of the project (Gray & Metcalf, 2017). The following websites have been consulted to procure necessary information for data analysis. 

  1.  https://www.planning.org.au/events/event/environmental-impact-assessment-in-wa   
  2.  http://epa.wa.gov.au/environmental-impact-assessment   
  3.  http://www.epa.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/EPA_Report/EPA%20Report%20-%20Eliwana%20Iron%20Ore%20Mine.pdf   
  4.  https://unep.ch/etu/publications/EIA_2ed/EIA_E_top1_hd.PDF 
  5.  http://www.epa.wa.gov.au/guidelines-and-procedures
  6.   http://ok-cear.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2018/01/Best-Practices-in-Environmental-Assessment.pdf  

2.4 Data analysis:

The data for the project would be analysed by the use of the various comparative approaches considering the subjective nature of the topic, the use of several credible sources would be taken into account and collected for the purpose of the research. The analysis of the data would be done in reference to the most recent literature of the scope of the topic for which a paper has been selected to showcase the gaps in the uncertainty consideration in the previous papers for the environmental assessment (Dahlitz & Morrison-Saunders, 2015). This will provide the required basis on which the management of the uncertainties would be done by the researcher which will lead to a more considerate outcome which will be acceptable to the future prospects, and the inclusion of the uncertainties will also improve the applicability of the results of this research.

An in-depth discussion of identified best practice criteria

The best practice criteria of Western Australia has considered and modified its environmental regulations and laws for better use by the people. The guideline provided by the laws only act as a deterrent and guiding principles for the operation of a wide range of industries with the sole aim of reducing the encroachment of the environment. Thus, the purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment is targeted to gain knowledge about the possible impacts of the tasks on the environment in order to make an informed decision and also to formulate new policies and laws as and when required for the benefit and preservation of the environment (Planning, 2019)The best practice of the EIA must include several prospects such as cost effectiveness, practical, adaptive, participative etc. 

Adaptive: The EIA criteria must consider the practical implications for the best use of the practice. It should always be noted that the development and industrialization can never stop but the preservation of the environment is equally important. So, the laws must change its form to beneficial limits so that the preservation and industrialization may carry on parallel.

Systematic: The EIA best practice must also be systematically applied for the assessment of the environmental impacts. The rules should be uniform and the use of the best practices must eliminate the possibilities of preferential choice of one over the other. Thus, a follow up of the systematic framework would produce the best results for the environment (Veronez & Montaño, 2015).

Participative: The environment protection would benefit us all. So, the participation of all is necessary and expected. Since, the implementation of the best practices cannot be effectively done if all parties involved in the project does not participate as the aim of the EIA would be defeated if any of them withdraws from their responsibilities.

The primary aim of the use of the best practice is to maintain a positive balance for the nature and analyse the environmental impacts of the project. The use of the best practice can be used to argue and explicitly describe the nature of responsibility the stakeholders of the project has to the society and the environment as well. The EIA can also guide the project to mitigate and minimize the impacts of harm to the nature. If the use of the best practice is not done, the natural justice will not be done as it is the moral responsibility of all the people of the world to preserve the nature. Although, the contextual meaning of the rules might change, but the underlying meaning and effects of it should not.

 The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 is the primary law in regards to the environmental impact assessment. It includes well-documented rules for the assessment of the environment (Morrison-Saunders et al. 2016). The EIA Part IV Divisions 1 and 2 are the administrative procedures and procedures manual (Epa, 2019a). The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 also provides technical assistance and advises when asked for. The core principles of the EIA are as follows:

  1. The location and condition of the activity is described in details by the EIA
  2. The identification of the probable outcomes and impact on the environment will also be made 
  3. The benefits of the activity will be outlined as well as the adverse effects would be identified
  4. The measures for the mitigation of the adverse effects would be proposed
  5. The follow-up and overseeing of the entirety of the activity or the project would be done very closely to monitor any damaging possibilities in the initiation phase

Thus, the EIA would equip the decision-makers to agree and debate on the information provided by the assessment to arrive at a decision for the path of least damage to nature. The use of the best practice would equip the legislators and assessors to observe the expansion of the industries without compromising the integrity of the environment.  However, the uncertainty of the undertaken factors will have a huge impact on the accuracy of the results. This is because the factors have an inherent capability to shift, which reduces the impacts and usability of the results. So, the results and the assessment must consider these uncertainties also to arrive at a conclusion for the accuracy of it (Epa, 2019c). This would reduce the variability factor to a minimum and thus, the result can be used independently of the changes in the condition of the determination.

 Short context section about the case study

The case study which has been taken for the consideration of this project is the Eliwana Iron Ore Mine Project, which was taken to the Environmental Protection Authority. The main idea of the project was to develop an Iron ore mine and the required infrastructure in Western Australia's Pilbara region. The Iron ore mine project would include the necessary infrastructure such as the facilities for water management, facilities for processing, landforms (temporary and permanent) and storage facilities for the tailing. The EIA was conducted by the Environmental Protection Authority. The assessment included a four week period for public review and an extension of the review time was granted by EPA to the stakeholders for further assessment (Epa, 2019b). The result of the assessment was that the project was in partial compliance with the environmental regulations, and certain changes were needed to be made. The six key environmental factors were assessed by the EPA, which are waters (inland), vegetation and flora, Subterranean and Terrestrial Fauna, quality of the air around and the social impact. Since the sited for the mine was inhabited by the aboriginal heritage site. There were several recommendations made by the EPA, such as: 

  1. The project must abstain from mining in the aboriginal heritage sites, and the cultural heritage of the area should be protected
  2. The risk assessment and control for the handling of the Acid and Metalliferous Drainage (AMD) must be undertaken by the stakeholders of the project
  3. The emissions of greenhouse gases must be minimized by the project
  4.  The damage to flora and fauna of the region would be protected, and causes for the same would be reduced to preserve the environmental integrity
  5. The mitigation of the loss of 7900 ha of vegetation native to the area would also be done to balance the nature proportionately
  6. The quality of the water and the drainage system of the mining area would be managed to create a sustainable environment

On the basis of the recommendations of the EPA, the management of the mining company has undertaken various steps to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations. The recommendations of the EPA have been used as a guiding principle in this regard, which has resulted in the reduction of the originally proposed development area from 70000 ha to 53000 ha (Unep, 2019). This has reduced the damage and destruction of the aboriginal species of Western Australia and preserved nature. The EPA has consulted 8 assessments by independent agencies for the recommendations and assessment criteria for the determination of the environmental impact. The EPA firmly values the consultation process and argues that the assessment has led to the balanced development of the area and also to preserve nature in its true form. The damage and probable reasons for the damage which could be predicted at the beginning and during the project initiation have also been considered which has led to the better development plan with special attention to the impacts the project might have on the environment (Epa, 2019b). Thus, the EIA carried out by the EPA has concluded the possible impacts in accordance with the factors that are responsible for it.

Application of criteria on case study

The case study is clearly showing that the possible factors which might affect the environment when the Iron Ore Mining Project was to undergo at the Pilbara region of Western Australia have been considered for the preparation of the assessment report. However, there are some factors which cannot be perceived by the people and would have huge impacts if the conditions of the project assessment change. These changes would render the assessment criteria null and void, and hence, the need for the assessment of the uncertainties of the environmental impacts must also be considered for easy and effective results of the assessment. Although the assessment has definitely taken the changes to some extent, the unpredictable nature of the environment might render it useless (De-Witt et al. 2019). The uncertainties include the vegetation and flora and fauna specific to the region. Although the general negative impacts on flora and fauna have been considered during the preparation of the report, the exotic flora and fauna specific to the region have not been undertaken. These are very delicate ecological systems which might be destroyed due to the project. The changes in the long term effects of the drainage and dumping system of the wastes of the mining procedures which may cause soil poisoning and impact the nitrogenous bacteria of the adjacent regions too. This would harm flora and fauna of the adjoining areas, which is not taken into consideration for the preparation of this project. The enquiries may also be biased due to the very personal sentiments of the assessor and as such the true aim of the assessment will not be achieved although the research has been done comprehensively (Pinto et al. 2019). These personal traits are very hard to determine and track as such, the results of the report will not be applicable, and the factors taken into consideration will not reflect the true nature of the work being done. The air quality is a factor which has been considered, but the dispersion of the pollutant to other areas of Western Australia is possible. This is also not taken into consideration, and only the pollution level of the area has been utilised to prepare the report. So, it seems that there are leaching of the metals and acids to the groundwater which is shared by all of the population and just considering the drainage system of the area would not suffice to predict that the control measures for the mining area would not affect the environment at all. The advantages of the study are that the rules and regulations for the assessment have been strictly followed and the professionals of the EPA have used the guidelines and multiple arbitrary assessments for determining the impacts of the mining on the environment (Teherani et al. 2015). However, the weakness of the project is in the application as the factors which has been used for the preparation of the report is very trivial and general and not specific for the area. The uncertainties of the factors have also not been included in the generation of the report.

Conclusion

This project has undertaken a very niche idea of the uncertainties, which is ever-existent but hardly acknowledged in the assessment of the impacts on the environment. It is clearly visible that the factors which may cause environmental problems have been identified and applied for the determination of the impacts and the obtained results have been used by the policymakers to decide on the effects of the environment due to a project. However, the uncertainties of the factors defeat the purpose of the environmental impact assessment. The consideration provides a partial picture of the problems and causes as the uncertainty is inherent to the factors of the environment. This leads to the conclusion that the main aim of this research is required to be fulfilled. The use of the case study is to provide a scholarly base for the need for the management of the uncertainties, which would increase the applicability of the results of the environmental assessment in the future. The project has identified the gaps and given reasons for the same to corroborate the claims of deficiencies and uncertainties in the project outcome. The methodology which has been used in this project includes the secondary methods of data collection, which would associate previous research with determining and formulating a new conclusion through comparison and analysis of the prior data. Thus, the secondary research design complements the use of the data for the analysis, and the aptness of the methods used is also justified in it. The approach for the research is qualitative as the nature of the project demands for a comparative study and so the data which has been collected should not enumerate but assess the use of the qualitative approach which would provide the best results for the project and achievement of the aims and objectives of the research would become easier.

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