1. What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
The concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was first introduced and defined in the Law on Environmental Protection (LEP) 1993 No. 29-L/CTN and the definition had hardly changed until the latest version of the Law on Environmental Protection 2020 No. 72/2020/QH14 (LEP 2020), dated November 17, 2020, taking into effect on January 1, 2022. The EIA refers to the process of analyzing, assessing, identifying and predicting environmental impacts of an investment project in order to take measures to reduce the project’s adverse impacts on the environment. Investors must conduct EIAs and obtain approval from the authority on their EIA reports before starting any project construction. Basically, an EIA report must include the following contents:
- Location and current status of the area where the project is implemented
- Main production process, technology, materials of the project
- Prediction of elements with impacts on the environment at the project location
- Measures to reduce adverse impacts on environment.
2. Entities subject to EIA
In previous versions of LEP, investment projects were mainly classified by the scale, capacity and type of production, business and service. In the LEP 2020, the environmental criteria for investment project classification are further expanded, adding areas and sensitive environmental factors such as high-density residential areas, water sources, agricultural land, types of forests, natural heritage sites, etc. In details, in LEP 2020, investment projects are classified into 4 groups:
- Group I: investment projects that pose a high risk of adverse environmental impacts
- Group II: investment projects that pose a risk of adverse environmental impacts
- Group III: investment projects that pose a low risk of adverse environmental impacts
- Group IV: investment projects that do not pose a risk of adverse environmental impacts
The above group classification shall be basis for determining projects subject to the preliminary environmental impact assessment (PEIA), environmental impact assessment (EIA), and environmental license. These are regulated in Articles 28, 29, and 30 of LEP 2020. Specifically, the following projects that belong to Groups I and II involved in production, trading and service are subject to EIA.
- Large-scale and capacity projects
- Medium-scale and capacity projects with sensitive environmental factors
- Projects providing hazardous waste treatment service
- Projects involving import of scrap as production materials
List of type of production, business and service posing risks of adverse environmental impacts, and details on Groups I, II, III projects will be regulated in the Decree guiding LEP 2020. At the present, this decree is being enacted and planned to come into force at the beginning of 2022.
According to each type of investment project, EIA report shall be appraised and approved by Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment (MONRE) or Provincial People’s Committees.
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Table 1. Classification of investment project subject to EIA, PEIA, Environmental License (see details in Articles 28, 29, and 30 of LEP 2020)
3. Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA)
Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA) is a newly defined concept, firstly mentioned in LEP 2020. The PEIA means the consideration and identification of major environmental issues of an investment project during the pre-feasibility study or the investment project proposal. Separately from EIA, investors must conduct PEIA to provide the most fundamental information on environmental impacts to competent authority. The implementation of PEIA also helps investors reduce the cost for EIA as compared to the past, avoiding such cases in which an EIA is completed but the project is not approved.
Besides, PEIA is also a legal procedure to be performed to closely harmonize with the requirements on the application dossier of proposal for investment under the Law on Investment 2020, as well as with the requirements to add the content of PEIA into the pre-feasibility study report for construction investment projects as prescribed in the revised Law on Construction 2020. Entities subject to PEIA include only projects of Group I, mainly targeting to large projects, public investment projects and projects pose high risks of adverse environmental impact.
4. Environmental license and environmental registrations
Environmental license is also newly introduced and first defined in the LEP 2020. Many enterprises understand that an approved EIA report is a kind of license, meaning that investors can formally operate the project after the construction is completed with a successful EIA report. However, environmental license is a separated procedure that investors must apply for authorization. Environmental license shall be legal basis for operation of waste treatment works of an investment project, including both trial and official operation. According to LEP 2020, an environmental license covers activities such as discharging and managing waste, importing scraps, etc. It means that an environmental license integrates several permits relating to waste, importing scraps under LEP 2014, and other relevant laws such as license to discharge wastewater into water sources under the Law on Water Resources, license to discharge wastewater into hydraulic structure under the Law on hydraulics, license for hazardous waste management, register of hazardous waste source owners, etc. (called “component environmental licenses”). An environmental license clearly states the scope of permitted activities and requirements for environmental protection of the project. According to each type of investment project, environmental license shall be issued by MONRE, provincial or district-level People’s Committees. Each license is valid for 7 to 10 years.
The following investment projects are subject to environmental license:
(1) Groups I, II and III projects that generate wastewater, dusts and exhaust gases that must be treated before being emitted into the environment or generate hazardous waste that must be managed in accordance with regulations on waste management before officially being put into operation.
(2) Investment projects that have started operation before the effective date of LEP 2020 and fall under any of the environmental criteria as mentioned above (1).
An investment project subject to EIA must obtain the environmental license before trial operation of the waste treatment work. If the waste treatment work of the investment project presribed in the above (2), is currently under trial operation before the effective date of LEP 2020, the project owner is entitled to continue the trial operation to obtain the environmental license after the trial operation is done or prepare an application for the environmental license before the trial operation is done, and not required to carry out the trial operation again.
Conversely, waste-generating investment projects not required to obtain an environmental license shall have to conduct other procedure called the environmental registration. This is a simpler procedure than environmental license. For new investment projects after the effective date of the LEP 2020, depending on the type of project, environmental registration must be completed before issuing a construction permit, discharging waste into the environment or putting it into official operation. Investment projects that do not generate waste or only generate a small quantity of waste which can be treated using in-situ waste treatment works or managed in accordance with regulations of the local government shall be exempt from obligation of environmental registration.
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Table 2. Regulations on subjects, time, period and competent authority to issue environmental license, environmental registration as prescribed in Articles 42 and 49 of LEP 2020
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