Environmental Impact Assessments as part of the pulp and paper business

Steve Walker and Angela Mascini

1. INTRODUCTION

Sustainable development is currently receiving global attention. This trend is likely to increase with sustainability reporting and sustainability indices growing in importance with investors. The environmental performance of a company forms an important part of sustainability reporting. By using assessment tools such as environmental impact assessments (EIA's), the sustainability of any company's strategies and projects can be assessed.

There are many activities for which South African law requires an EIA, as listed in Section 21 the Environmental Conservation Act (Act 73 of 1989). The EIA process is however generally not well understood by industry. Problems often arise when a project requiring an EIA makes 'business sense' but cannot be implemented before the relevant environmental authority issues an authorisation.

This paper aims to place EIA's in context within the pulp and paper industry, to describe the EIA process with reference to the Enstra Mill lime dams, to highlight shortcomings in the process and what is being done to improve the process. Spent lime from the soda recovery process is sent to dams, which are operated along the lines of tailings dam.  The lime is recovered and sold as agricultural and industrial lime.

2. ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE AS A COMPETITIVE EDGE

The concept of sustainable development was defined in the Brundtland Report as 'development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (1).

As a result, sustainability reporting has gained increased importance amongst companies worldwide. Sustainability reporting is a process for publicly disclosing an organisations economic, environmental and social performance also known as the triple bottom line (10). The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an independent institution which developed guidelines for sustainability reporting, similar to guidelines used for financial reporting. GRI works in co-operation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who in turn is responsible for the promotion of global sustainable development (8). Good sustainability performance is set to give companies a competitive edge in the future.

The JSE have established a Sustainability Index called the SRI. This has been done in response to a global trend of investor interest in the sustainability of a company (7).  Internationally, sustainability indices are being developed and marketed as investment vehicles. A notable example is the Dow-Jones Sustainability Index. South African businesses must follow this trend as globalisation means they could miss out on the new breed of environmentally aware investors if they do not follow the examples set internationally.

3. EIA'S AS A PART OF PLANNING

Given the present and future importance of environmental performance to companies, it is necessary that the environmental impacts of strategies, expansions, projects and budgets be considered upfront. In order to do this, a few practical pointers in scenario planning can be applied.

The 'rules' of EIA's should be known and well understood within the business. The necessity and importance of an EIA should be considered at the feasibility stage of a project.

Key uncertainties should be defined at the outset, with the best and worst-case scenarios for a project considered. For an EIA, the worst-case scenario regarding the impact on the environment should be considered to ensure that mitigation measures have been adequately addressed. This will minimize 'surprises' caused by the conditions set in the Record of Decision (RoD) issued by the regulatory authorities.

The worst scenario for the particular business activity would be a negative RoD, denying authorization to continue with the project. This possibility should also be seriously considered at the outset of a project so that alternative options are adequately considered, as a backup to the proposed activity.

Options should be clearly defined in terms of both the resource requirement, and its anticipated output. This can be used to motivate the desirability of one option above another, especially in the case where the regulatory authority requires state of the art mitigation measure when a series of cheaper alternatives may have the same effect.

Assuming a decision is made in terms of the project, i.e. a RoD is issued by the government. The outcome of the decision should be evaluated to see whether for example, the project scope is still as defined for the EIA. If not, a new EIA may be required. If the outcome of the RoD was unintended, e.g. many unexpected conditions were attached to the implementation of the project, then the economic viability of the project may have to be reviewed. If the project is discontinued along the way for financial or other reasons, there would be no outcome for the RoD, but it should be remembered that the authorities are to be informed of this.

4 .EIA REGULATIONS OR 'RULES'
(DEAT, 1998)

4.1 Listed Activities

The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism published the "National Environmental Management Act, (Act 107 of 1998)", which results in the requirement for EIA's. The Activities to which this applies, are listed in Section 21 of the Environmental Conservation Act (Act 73 of 1989).  NEMA requires that an activity having a significant impact on the environment must undergo an EIA.

'Upgrading' is defined as 'Includes the enlargement or expansion of an activity, but excludes regular or routine maintenance and the replacement of inefficient or old equipment, plants or machinery where such does not have a detrimental effect on the environment.'

In 1999 Enstra mill had to permit the lime (listed as waste disposal) dams necessitating going through an EIA process. The first EIA meeting with the authorities was held on 28 April 1999.

4.2 ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

4.2.1 The Applicant

Enstra mill appointed independent consultants, Kobus Otto & Associates and Jones & Wagener, who were responsible for ensuring that Enstra mill complied with the regulations.

Enstra had to ensure that the following took place: (i) that the consultants had the expertise required to conduct EIA's, (ii) that the consultants had no financial interest in the proposed activity, (iii) that the consultants took responsibility for all information generated and reports produced in order to comply with the regulations, (iv) that sound control be exercised over costs incurred during the process, (v) that the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs (GDACEL) be given full access to all relevant information, and (vi) that the public participation process was performed in an open and transparent manner.

4.2.2 The Consultant

Kobus Otto & Associates and Jones & Wagener had to ensure that they had the expertise and experience required to conduct EIA's, and that they had no financial interest in the proposed activity. They were given responsibility for all information and reports produced, carrying out the public participation process, and for providing the GDACEL with all the relevant information.

4.2.3 The I&APs

Interested and affected parties had to provide input and comments throughout the EIA process. This input had to be provided within the time-frames specified by the Enstra mill, the consultant and GDACEL. Two public participation meetings were held during the process.

4.2.4 The Authority

GDACEL had to ensure compliance of the application with the regulations, inter-departmental consultation in the decision-making process, consultation with the Enstra mill and the consultant and to review the application. The authority was responsible only to require adequate information required to make an informed decision.

4.3 THE EIA PROCESS

The EIA process is illustrated below

EIA process

4.3.1 Pre-application Consultation

The purpose of the consultation was to avoid delays in the process. Consultation can be telephonic, by letter, facsimile, e-mail or an actual meeting with the authority. If there is uncertainty on the part of the applicant that a proposed activity should comply with the regulations, it should be clarified during the consultation.  Enstra knew a permit would be required.  A specific contact person, an application form and general guidelines on the procedures were supplied to the applicant.

4.3.2 Submission of Application Form

The form served to provide the authorities with details of Enstra mill, the consultant, the nature and location of the proposed activity and highlight any problematic issues identified by the Enstra mill. This form was submitted by Kobus Otto & Associates.

4.3.3 The Scoping Process

Public Participation

Open and transparent public participation forms part of the scoping process. This included advertising the proposed activity, contacting adjacent landowners, civic or resident associations and the relevant authorities to inform them of the proposed activity. The objective of the public participation process was to afford interested and affected parties (I&APs) the opportunity to comment on the development and to raise their concerns.

Advertising was carried out at the start of the scoping phase and was done in the Legal section of the classified section in the local and provincial newspapers. The advertisement was in the language of the predominant group in the area, and was run for one day. A notice board giving notice of the EIA process and the proposed activity was also placed on-site for the duration of the scoping phase, with notices of the proposed public meeting hand delivered to the residents living in the railway houses.

All issues raised during public participation had to be addressed and feedback on the outcome of further investigations as well as the proposed mitigating measures was given to I&APs.

The Scoping Report

The relevant authority may request either the submission of a Plan of Study for Scoping, or a direct submission of a Scoping Report. GDACEL requested that a Plan of Study be submitted.

The Plan of Study provided the GDACEL with information on the activity, a description of the tasks to be performed in the scoping phase, the parties responsible for execution of the various tasks, the method to be used in identifying issues and alternatives to the project, a time-table for the tasks, and proposed future authority consultation. Once this plan of study was approved, the scoping phase began.

The Scoping Report was then prepared. The Scoping Report contained the project description, a description of environmental issues identified, a description of how the project will impact on the environment based on the results of detailed investigations undertaken, mitigating measures proposed to address the environmental impacts, a description of alternatives to the project, and a description of the outcome of the public participation process.

It should be noted that an environmental issue is described as a definable impact, the cause of an impact, or a generally expressed concern from I&APs. The investigation should however focus on relevant and important issues identified during the plan of study or raised by the authorities or public.

It should further be noted that 'alternatives' include alternative activities, locations, processes, inputs and scheduling to those defined in the proposal. The options of maintaining the status quo, or the option of doing nothing, are also alternatives to be considered.

Review of Scoping Report

At this stage the Scoping Report was reviewed by the GDACEL, as well as the Interested and Affected Parties (IAP's). The authority has the right to call for a specialist review if they lack the expertise to review the report.

The purpose of the authority review was to determine if the prescribed procedures have been followed, if the public participation was sufficient, if the information provided is credible and if the main issues identified have been adequately addressed.

The purpose of the public review was to allow I&APs the opportunity to determine whether or not the issues raised have been adequately addressed.

If the information provided in the Scoping Report is sufficient for the authorities to make an informed decision on the anticipated environmental impact of the project and how the proposed mitigation measures will address any negative impacts that may have been identified, the authority may decide to authorise or to reject the application through its Record of Decision (RoD).

The authority may also decide that the Scoping Report needs to be supplemented by an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), in which case the impact assessment process begins.

In the case of Enstra mill no EIR was required.  The scoping report was dated March 2000, additional information was requested by DACEL on 1 November 2000 and the RoD was issued on 16 August 2001.

4.3.4 The Environmental Impact Assessment Process

Plan of Study for the EI

A plan of study for the EIA must be developed. The plan will describe the issues identified during scoping, the method to be used to identify environmental impacts, additional information required and further investigations to be undertaken to assess the significance of the potential impacts and the proposed project phases.

The authority will review the plan, accept it if it complies with the regulations and procedures or ask for additional information to be provided.

Environmental Impact Assessment Report

After the plan of study is accepted, a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out and an environmental impact report is prepared. This report should contain descriptions of each feasible alternative to the process under consideration, an assessment of the environmental impacts of these alternatives, determination of the significance of the impacts, mitigation measures proposed to lessen the impacts, a section addressing the issues raised during scoping, and a comparative assessment of the feasible alternatives.

Review

The report is reviewed to determine if the impact assessment is adequate for decision-making, whether all the issues raised during scoping have been addressed, and whether the application complies with the regulations. Review is once again done by both the authority and I&APs.

The report must therefore be made available to the public for comments. Once the review is completed, the authority may decide to request additional information on matters that may not be clear from the report, authorise the application with certain conditions to be complied with by the applicant or reject the application. A RoD reflecting the decision of the authority as well as any conditions that may apply will be issued to the applicant.

4.3.5 Appeal

An appeal can only be lodged once a decision has been made to authorise or reject the application. Any person who feels aggrieved by the decision may appeal. This includes the applicant, interested and affected party or a member of the public. A written appeal must be submitted to the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism within 30 days of the date on which the RoD was issued to the applicant.

5. EIA REGULATIONS AND THE PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRY

A typical pulp and paper mill was evaluated against the listed activities which require an EIA. Table 1 shows the sections of a mill where upgrading would likely require an EIA. The table is not intended to be comprehensive, and the regulatory authority should always be consulted if there is any doubt regarding the need for an EIA.

6. SHORTFALLS IN THE EIA PROCESS

The following shortfalls were highlighted by C. Kay of WESA.

6.1 The Consultant

As there is no certification board for the environmental consultant, anyone can claim to be an environmental consultant. Numerous situations have arisen where poor scoping or impact assessment reports were delivered by such people. This did not happen in Enstra mill's case.  Due to the lack of resources and capacity within government, projects are often approved on the basis of these poor reports harming the environment. There appear to be no real consequences for poor performance on the part of the consultant.

6.2 Independence of the Consultant

Even though the EIA regulation obliges the applicant to ensure the independence of the consultant, the applicant is paying the consultant. The applicant also supplies a large portion of the information used to the consultant. As a result, the consultant cannot remain entirely unencumbered of the applicant's interests.

6.3 Scoping

The purpose of scoping is to identify the issues to be considered in an environmental impact assessment. The plan of study is submitted to the authorities before commencing with the scoping report on the EIA.

In practice, the scoping process has been merged with the EIA process. This 'mini EIA' attempts to identify and address the issues raised in one report. This is an attempt by the industry to speed up the process of obtaining an RoD, but this limits the public participation aspect which is not acceptable.

The authorities are, at times constrained by a lack of resources, capacity and expertise. This can result in a reluctance to take a decision, or inability to distinguish between a significant and an insignificant impact.

6.4 Participation

Public participation must include all relevant interested and affected parties in the procedures undertaken in the EIA process. It is becoming increasingly common that public participation is only included towards the end of the process. Rural communities are often ignored as meetings are held far away in urban areas, and radio is used as a medium for advertising.

Documentation should be freely available to the public, but is often withheld from NGO's. NGO's must then resort to using the Access to Information Act to obtain the documentation. This destroys the transparency of the process. This is unfortunate as, in general, the better the public participation process, the smaller the likelihood that an RoD will be challenged in court afterwards.

6.5  Alternatives

The regulations stipulate that alternatives, including the status quo alternative must be assessed. These assessments are often poor. Alternatives put forward tend to be unrealistic in order to favour the option the applicant wants to implement.

The regulations also require the applicant to illustrate the need and desirability of the project, which is often not done.

6.6 Record of Decision

There is confusion regarding the 30-day notice period for the appeal against an RoD. It is not specifically stated that the noting of an appeal in the period suspends the authorization for the activity to go ahead.

The RoD usually includes conditions which must be met for the activity to go ahead. Conditions are allowed in terms of the regulations, but the issues they address should rather be addressed fully during the EIA process prior to approval, and not be included in the RoD. The effect of the conditions is usually transferred to an environmental monitoring committee and is not regulated by government.

7. MEASURES BEING TAKEN TO ADDRESS SHORT FALLS

A project is currently underway by DEAT to highlight and address bottlenecks in the process causing problems in the turn-around of applications.

A Bill to amend the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) has also been tabled. 3 The purpose of the amendment is to:

1. Provide for the listing of activities that requires an environmental authorization.

2. Provide for offences when listed activities are undertaken without or in contradiction with an environmental authorization.

3. Provide for associations of environmental assessment practitioners to be registered.

4. Provide for cost recovery for services delivered b competent / regulatory authorities.

Once the bill has been accepted, regulations must be promulgated in order to give effect to the amended act. There are indications that the listed activities will be reduced to include only developments of high priority and/or impact. Other environmental management and impact assessment tools will be legislated to handle medium and low priority and/or impact developments. These tools may include strategic environmental assessments and cost benefit analyses. Separate standards and guidelines are to be developed for identified classes of frequent and similar developments e.g. cell phone masts.

8. CONCLUSIONS

The environmental performance of a company will become increasingly important in light of the global drive towards sustainable development. The correct application of EIA's will form an important part of this.

Many processes in the pulp and paper industry require EIA's. As such, EIA's should be included in the planning of company strategies and projects and budgets.

The present EIA process is well established, but has many flaws. It is currently being reviewed in order to streamline it, and make provision for other impact assessment tools to be used on projects with lesser impacts.

The cost of EIA's are likely to increase due to the introduction of cost recovery by government and the compulsory registration of environmental assessment practitioners proposed in the amendment to NEMA. The cost of ignoring EIA's will also increase with the introduction of penalties.

9. REFERENCES

1. DEAT (1997) 'White Paper on Environmental Management Policy', Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, R.S.A.

2. DEAT (1998) 'EIA Regulations, implementation of sections 21 and 22 and 26 of the Environment Conservation Act', Guideline Document, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, R.S.A.

3. DEAT (2003) 'National Environmental Management Second Amendment Bill, 2003, Explanatory Memorandum', Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, R.S.A.

4. Gordon, M. (2003) 'Trends in Environmental Impact Management', Conference proceedings, Successfully conducting EIA's, November 2003, IQPC, Midrand, South Africa.

5.   Illbury, C. and Sunter, C (2001) Mind of a fox, Human & Rousseau (Pty) Ltd, R.S.A.

6.   Kay, C. (2003) 'Ensuring due process and lack of bias in environmental impact assessment', Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.

7. Le Roux, C. (2003) 'The development of the JSE sustainability index', Conference proceedings, Successfully conducting EIA's, November 2003, IQPC, Midrand, South Africa.

8.   www.globalreporting.org , 'GRI at a glance', 31/12/2003.

9.   www.sustainability-index.com 'DOW Jones Sustainability Index', 31/12/2003.

10. www.sustainability.com/philosophy/triple-bottom 'What is the triple bottom line?', 6/1/2003.