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The set of matters to be investigated and documented in an EES is the scope of an EES. The detailed scope for an EES is set out in the scoping requirements developed by the department and issued by the Minister.

How will scoping requirements be developed?

To assist scoping, the proponent should provide its preliminary list of issues to be investigated and a draft EES study program. On receipt of an adequate draft study program, the department will draft scoping requirements for the EES, generally within 20 business days. The draft scoping requirements will then be exhibited for public comment for a minimum of 15 business days. The proponent is required to advertise the exhibition, via notices in at least one daily newspaper and in one or more local papers for a regional project, or via some other means as agreed with the department.

Scoping requirements will normally be finalised within 15 business days of the close of the public comment period and, when approved by the Minister, made publicly available on the department’s website.

Scoping requirements can be amended during the preparation of an EES if substantive technical clarifications are needed, significant changes to a project proposal occur, or unforeseen and significant issues are identified. The proponent will be consulted before changes are made.

Scoping requirements may propose evaluation objectives for each of the key matters or topics to be examined in the EES. Evaluation objectives are intended to provide a framework to guide an integrated assessment of environmental effects and for evaluating the overall implications of the project.

What consultation occurs during the preparation of an EES?

The proponent is responsible for consulting with and keeping the public and stakeholders informed of technical investigations and EES progress. The proponent is required to prepare and implement an EES consultation plan that ensures feedback and the views of potentially affected and interested parties (stakeholders) are obtained during the development of the EES. The plan will document the means and timing of seeking and responding to feedback from the public and stakeholders. A draft plan, together with a preliminary listing of stakeholder issues, should be provided to the department for advice on refining and finalising the plan before it is published on the department’s website. There may be a need to provide access to information (in a summary form) in languages other than English, depending on the cultural backgrounds of social groups potentially affected by a project.

Where a project may affect Aboriginal cultural heritage or traditional owners’ interests, the proponent should make early contact to identify matters of interest and discuss opportunities for traditional owners’ involvement. It is important the views of traditional owners are sought and input and that this be done in an appropriate and respectful manner

What is a technical reference group?

The process for preparing an EES includes the establishment of a TRG by the department. A TRG’S membership is drawn from government agencies, regional authorities, municipal councils and registered Aboriginal parties (RAPs) that have a statutory, policy or technical interest in relation to the project. TRGs are formed project-by-project and are guided by specific terms of reference developed by the department. The proponent participates in TRG meetings by providing information and promoting, discussing, or responding to project and EES issues.

What does a technical reference group do?

The primary role of a TRG is to advise:

  • the department on matters that should be included in the scoping requirements and consultation plan for an EES
  • the proponent on the need for and adequacy of technical EES studies in terms of their consistency with good practice standards of method and analysis; and
  • the department on the technical adequacy of the proposed EES, as well as the adequacy of its response to relevant matters.

The TRG provides advice and assistance to the proponent on:

  • required statutory approvals and coordination of procedures
  • relevant policies and strategies, and related information requirements
  • the design, method and adequacy of technical studies for the EES
  • availability of relevant data sets and research
  • conformity of the proposal and EES studies with policy and statutory requirements
  • design and implementation of the proponent’s public information and stakeholder consultation plan for the EES
  • responses to issues arising from the EES investigations; and
  • technical adequacy and completeness of draft EES documentation.

Agencies and authorities participating in a TRG are expected to provide accurate and timely advice regarding matters for which their organisations have specific responsibility. TRGs will treat all provided material in confidence.

What should be included in an EES?

The content of an EES will be guided by the scoping requirements set for each project by the Minister and should be prepared in the context of a systems approach, proportionality to risk and ecologically sustainable development (see Understanding the assessment process). Ultimately, it is the proponent’s responsibility to ensure that sufficient studies are undertaken and reported to support an adequate assessment of environmental effects and that effective internal quality assurance has been applied during the preparation of the EES.

A clear and sufficiently detailed description of all relevant components, processes and development stages of a proposed project is needed to enable the effective assessment of potential environmental effects. Where detailed design is to follow an EES, a concept or reference design may be used to describe and assess the project. The project description should set out all relevant aspects of the project’s design, construction and operation and its environmental context as follows:

  • project rationale and objectives
  • location, technology and design of project components (including essential offsite components)
  • site characteristics and surrounding area
  • communities, properties and/or residences that may be affected by the proposal, including a description of the way that they may be affected
  • proposed methods to avoid or mitigate adverse environmental effects and risks, including consideration of the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimise, manage, rehabilitate, offset)
  • proposed program and time schedule for project implementation; and
  • proposed method for implementing the project, including responsibility for construction, operation and, where relevant, rehabilitation and decommissioning.

Where substantial changes to the project are proposed during EES preparation, proponents are encouraged to re-engage with the community,
stakeholders and decision-makers early in order to reassess project impacts, proposed methods for mitigating adverse effects and any implications for scoping requirements.

Matters to be examined

Project alternatives

An EES will not normally be required to document alternatives to a project but will consider alternatives for a project. However, the EES should include a rationale for the proposed form of the project. The examination of alternatives for a project, in an EES, should include a screening of feasible alternatives as part of the project planning or design process, leading to a preferred alternative or alternatives. Preferred alternatives should offer clear potential to minimise and/or avoid significant environmental effects whilst meeting the objectives of the project.

Consideration of alternatives might entail:

  • siting and layouts, where some flexibility is available in terms of site suitability and availability
  • design or process, where one of several approaches could be applied
  • scale, where the magnitude of the project might be varied in response to demand or constraint factors
  • timing of project activities; and
  • staging of project development, where construction, operational or other factors might necessitate or provide an option for staged implementation.

The only alternative to a project proposal that will routinely be described in detail in an EES is the ‘no-project’ scenario. The no-project case provides the current and anticipated conditions if the project does not proceed, as a baseline for describing the project’s potential environmental effects. It may also be appropriate for an EES to describe alternative scenarios for a site when the project is decommissioned.

Environmental effects

An EES should provide an assessment of a project’s potential effects on the existing environment (including identified future trends such as projected changes to the climate). The assessment should address effects on:

  • physical systems including potential changes to geology and soils, landform, landscape, land stability, hydrology and quality of surface, ground and marine waters
  • ecological communities, populations or habitat of indigenous species of flora and fauna and ecosystem processes supporting biodiversity
  • Aboriginal cultural heritage and historical heritage places and values
  • continuation of existing land uses and the potential for displacement of land uses taking into account relevant planning scheme provisions
  • opportunities for future land uses supported by strategic land use policy
  • economic aspects including employment, business and industry viability and economic well-being at local, regional and national scales
  • social aspects including amenity (related to air quality, noise, vibration and traffic and visual changes), continuation of social and recreation activities, access to social infrastructure and community cohesion
  • human health for example related to changes in air quality and the noise environment or changes to public safety; and
  • climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions and the ability of communities and ecosystems to adapt to climate change.

Types of environmental effects

Projects may give rise to on- and off-site environmental effects. Environmental effects might occur as a direct result of the project works or
activities at, near or downstream of the project site during and after the project’s lifetime. In addition, the cumulative effect of a project in combination with other approved projects, known existing activities and/or proposed projects in an area, may need to be assessed if they could have an overall significant adverse effect. All environmental effects —direct, indirect, cumulative— are required to be assessed in an EES where:

  • they are reasonably foreseeable
  • there is a causal link between the project and the potential effects; and
  • they are potentially significant.

Stakeholder engagement

An EES needs to document the process and results of consultation undertaken by the proponent during the preparation of the EES. Issues raised by stakeholders or the public, and the proponent’s responses to these issues, should be reported in the context of the EES studies and the associated consideration of avoidance and mitigation measures.

Assessment method

An EES should provide an analysis of the significance of potential (positive and negative) environmental effects with consideration of the existing
environment and future no-project scenarios. The analysis should incorporate desktop review, field survey and stakeholder consultation. If a rating system is used to present the significance of potential effects (e.g. low, medium or high), the criteria used for the various ratings should be clearly described.

Once the project’s effects have been identified and characterised, the EES should then:

  • propose mitigation measures, where appropriate, to reduce potential effects having regard to the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimise, manage, rehabilitate, offset)
  • describe the residual effects (post mitigation) and analyse the significance of potential effects
  • propose monitoring and performance criteria to evaluate whether the effects are maintained acceptably over the life of the project (including, decommissioning, rehabilitation and beyond, if required); and
  • propose contingency approaches if the effects are not maintained within performance criteria.

Environmental performance criteria might be linked to higher-order objectives for the integrated evaluation of project effects or outcomes. Scoping requirements for an EES may set out evaluation objectives in the context of key issues and relevant statutory provisions.

Consistency with statutory provisions

Scoping requirements may identify relevant legislation and regulations, associated statutory policies, strategies, plans and guidelines, as well as
government agreements. However, the EES will need to document the project’s consistency with applicable legislation, regulations, statutory policies, strategies, plans, guidelines and agreements. It should also address statutory requirements associated with the key approvals that will be informed by the Minister’s assessment, where possible. Matters that are the respective responsibility of state, local and commonwealth governments should be clearly identified.

Framework for environmental management

An EES should incorporate a framework for managing the environmental effects and risks of a project. The framework should include:

  • the environmental management system to be adopted (e.g. based on ISO 14001)
  • governance arrangements including organisational responsibilities and accountabilities
  • proposed environmental objectives, indicators and performance requirements to guide environmental management and monitoring actions
  • an overview of environmental management plans for the construction and operational phases, and also decommissioning, where relevant
  • a consolidated list of environmental management measures proposed in the EES to address specific issues, including key environmental commitments of the proponent to mitigate adverse effects and enhance environmental performance
  • the proposed program for evaluating environmental outcomes, reviewing and revising environmental management plans, as well as the auditing and reporting of performance; and
  • arrangements for management of and access to baseline and monitoring data across the different stages of a project where relevant, to ensure the transparency and accountability of environmental management as well as to contribute to the improvement of environmental knowledge.

Where adaptive management is proposed, the EES will need to demonstrate the capability of the proponent to monitor environmental effects and respond within timeframes that provide reasonable confidence of acceptable outcomes being achieved. Where a combination of ‘static’ or proactive and adaptive management techniques is proposed, their respective roles should be clearly explained.

Is there a format that should be used in an EES?

The proponent is responsible for preparing an EES that adequately addresses the matters in the scoping requirements and any other relevant issues. These matters need to be sufficiently investigated and clearly documented to enable informed responses by the community, stakeholders and decision-makers. Typically, an EES will comprise:

  • a summary document
  • a main report
  • technical appendices.

EES Summary document

A concise, graphical, non-technical summary will be needed, to draw out key information and give readers a broad overview of the project and a
high-level appraisal of the potential effects and their management.

Main report

An integrated, concise, clear, objective, plain English document that provides a comprehensive response to the scoping requirements by describing the proposal, its predicted environmental effects and their proposed management. It should clearly identify where components of the scope are being addressed. The main report draws on technical reports and should be analytical rather than encyclopaedic in approach. The report should make extensive use of maps, photographs, diagrams and other graphical methods to illustrate key environmental features, project alternatives, potential effects and proposed responses.

Technical reports

Specialist studies, investigations and analyses that provide the basis for the EES main report should be appended to the main report. Technical reports should provide details of literature and database reviews, methods and results of field and laboratory investigations or modelling, and methods and results of impact assessments. Conclusions should be supported with commentary on the reliability of results and sources of uncertainty.

It may be prudent for a proponent to initiate peer reviews of some technical reports. In some circumstances, the Minister may direct the department to appoint independent peer review(s) of complex or particularly controversial matters, or where there may be a range of expert views. The cost of these peer reviews will need to be met by the proponent. The final written advice of peer reviewers appointed by the department will be exhibited together with the EES and provided to an inquiry if one is appointed.

Ensuring an EES is adequate for exhibition

It is the proponent’s responsibility to complete an EES that is adequate for exhibition. The EES needs to address the matters in the scoping requirements sufficiently and provide a clear understanding of the project and its likely effects. The department will utilise the TRG to advise on whether these requirements are met. There are three important steps to help ensure the adequacy of an EES for exhibitions:

  1. the proponent should adopt internal quality assurance procedures
  2. the proponent should clearly respond to TRG reviews and advice
  3. the proponent should engage with the department on the adequacy of the final proposed EES and seek authorisation from the Minister to exhibit for public comment.

Coordinating roles

To enable efficient management of the EES preparation, the proponent and the department should coordinate their roles. The parties should agree on an EES schedule of:

  • dates for delivery of the proponent’s consultation plan, draft technical reports and the draft EES, for review by the department and the TRG
  • timeframes for TRG feedback on draft documents as well as for quality review of the proposed final EES
  • timeframes for the proponent to respond to feedback; and
  • protocols for giving advance notice of any delays and for revising the agreed time schedule.

Agencies and authorities represented on the TRG will be asked to confirm their commitment to provide feedback within agreed timeframes.

What if a project needs to be put on hold?

Proponents may place a project on hold and ask the department in writing to place the EES on hold. The department will formally place the EES on hold and update the project EES status on the department’s website. If the project is later resumed, the proponent should ask the department in writing to resume the EES.

What if the proponent abandons a project?

Proponents that decide to abandon a project and the preparation of its EES should notify the Minister, the department and all relevant decision-makers that it intends to do so.

Page last updated: 01/12/23