The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has developed a 'National Screening Tool' which is a geographically based web-enabled system that houses a wealth of environmental data obtained from a number of public and private organisations over the last few years.
The purpose of this tool is to enable an applicant who intends to submit an application for an environmental authorisation (EA) under the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA) to pre-screen the proposed site for environmental sensitivity, among other things. We are informed that the use of the Screening Tool will become mandatory in the coming months - the date is yet to be announced. When this happens, the requirement under Regulation 16(1)(v) of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014 (EIA Regulations, 2014) for a site-specific report which is generated by the Screening Tool to be submitted with all EA applications under NEMA (Regulation 16 Report) will be brought into force.
On Friday last week, the Minister of Environmental Affairs published her intention to prescribe additional procedures for assessment and reporting that will be required to be followed when applying for an EA, and which will also involve the use of the Screening Tool (Notice):
- An initial site sensitivity verification (Site Verification) will be required to be undertaken
Environmental themes & associated protocols
- A Site Verification report must be prepared which confirms or disputes the current use of the land and environmental sensitivity as identified by the Screening Tool (through the Regulation 16 Report). The findings of this comparison will affect the level of assessment that must be carried out in respect of activities that fall within prescribed "environmental themes".
- If a Site Verification report confirms that the site proposed for development is of low sensitivity, as opposed to the high sensitivity rating identified by the Screening Tool, then in certain cases, a Compliance Statement may be submitted to the DEA (together with a motivation and evidence of the findings) instead of preparing an onerous assessment report.
- The following "environmental themes" have been included in the Notice: Agriculture, Avifauna, Biodiversity, Noise, Defence and Civil Aviation. Detailed protocols which set out the requirements for the assessment and reporting of environmental impacts of a listed activity under NEMA which requires an EA on each "environmental theme" are prescribed. When one or more of these protocols apply to a particular listed activity, then the requirements of Appendix 6 of the EIA Regulations (which govern the content of specialist studies), are replaced by the protocols.
- Development limits are prescribed for renewable energy facilities that generate 20MW of electricity or more on land zoned for agriculture. The proposed development limits are based on the sensitivity of the land as identified by the Screening Tool and apply to the physical development footprint. A motivation is required where there is any deviation from the set development limits.
In our view, the Screening Tool, together with the developments proposed in terms of the Notice, have the potential to greatly improve the quality of specialist studies that are prepared in an EIA process. Comments on the Notice are due by 10 June 2019.