Wednesday, July 15, 2009

EIS Preparation: Preliminary Findings

Research Questions:
Chapter 343 requires that the proponent of an action prepare the required EIS.
  1. Should someone other than the project proponent prepare an EIS?
  2. If yes, who should be responsible for the EIS?
Stakeholder Interview Comments
Overwhelmingly, stakeholders responded that the project proponent is best suited to preparing an EIS, though many did acknowledge that conflicts of interest can and do occur. Even the perception of such a conflict can be problematic, but more often than not agencies do their best to act appropriately. Project proponents have a stake in a speedy process, more accountability, and knowledge of the project. They are best suited to know appropriate mitigation measures and hire professional consultants. Others stated that a third party should prepare an EIS in order to maintain actual or perceived neutrality in the EIS.

To address the concerns of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, the following actions were most commonly suggested:
  1. Improve the existing system. Conflicts of interest will always exist and these are manageable. Establish best practices and guidelines, train preparers, and enhance agency capacity to make the existing system work better.
  2. Use third party preparers. Require the proponent to pay a fee for filing the document. This fee would pay for a consultant or unrelated agency staff to prepare the EIS. Alternatively, OEQC could prepare the documents.
  3. Certify preparers by establishing qualifications and verifying independence. Preparers should cite their qualifications in documents and could be randomly chosen from a list. Preparers that provide false or misleading information will be decertified.
Stakeholder Workshop Results
Session 1: Review of Results
Responses were divided between continuing to have the project proponent prepare the EIS and having someone other than the proponent prepare it. Certifying preparers to ensure professionalism and independence also received some support.

Session 2: Discussion Group and Report Back
In discussion, participants acknowledged that the issue of who prepares an EIS is controversial, but ultimately agreed that the proponent should continue to prepare the EIS. The discussion group also explored why this is an issue, citing the desire for fairness, balance, and professionalism. Suggestions for supporting these principles focused on transparent and clearer guidelines to reduce the real or perceived conflicts of interest. For more transparency, include more and better public education about the EIS process. For better quality and neutrality, reviewers should have clear guidelines to hold preparers more accountable. Therefore, OEQC should prepare guidelines and more actively review EISs, though this would require a larger budget and staff. To offset this increased cost, proponents could be required to pay a fee to OEQC to supplement these greater duties.

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