Austrian EIA amendment now in effect
As of the end of March, the amendment to the EIA act came into effect in Austria, with a focus on climate and soil protection, streamlined procedures, strategic environmental assessments, and possible exemptions for renewable energy projects. The primary goal of the amendment is to better protect the scarce resource of soil, with lowered thresholds for soil-intensive projects such as logistics centers and chalet villages. Additionally, EIA applications must include a soil protection concept, demonstrating the project's careful use of soil. The second focus is on climate protection, with more information required in the EIA regarding climate change, and projects such as oil and gas extraction given new thresholds. The novella also strengthens the expansion of renewable energy by allowing for their construction in areas without designated zoning, putting pressure on those local states that have not yet done so. Strategic environmental assessments receive increased importance, and several EIA aspects have been streamlined, with the possibility of online and hybrid hearings. Complaints without apparent substance no longer have automatic suspensive effect but may apply for one. The novella came into effect on March 23, 2023, after a small error in the original text that left a placeholder for the date.
Public participation during the updating of the National Energy and Climate Plans
The Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action (Regulation (EU) 2018/1999)) establishes reporting and implementation obligations for Member States to fulfil international commitments as well as the EU's own climate and energy policy objectives. Based on the provisions of the regulation itself (in particular Art 10) and the requirements of the Aarhus Convention (in particular Art 7), member states must ensure that the public can effectively participate in the updating of the NECPs. This includes providing information about the envisaged procedure, ensure access to the relevant documents, inform the public about opportunities to comment on the draft NECP within a reasonable time frame, and consult stakeholders and the general public. Member States should then consider all the relevant information and opinions and be able to show why comments were rejected on substantive grounds in a reasoned decision. The Governance Regulation furthermore requires Member States to establish multilevel climate and energy dialogues (Art 11), in which updating the NECPs may also be addressed. However, identifying and sanctioning non-compliance with Art 11 by Member States may be difficult. Wherever Art 7 of the Aarhus Convention is not inadequately implemented by the Governance Regulation, EU Member States as parties to the Aarhus Convention must still implement their obligations to provide effective public participation tools when updating the NECPs.