Environmental Impact Statements in Korea: New Korean Environmental Impact Assessment Regime

In the third quarter of 2012, the amended Environmental Impact Assessment Act (“EIAA”) was implemented.  After the enactment, environmental impact assessments are no longer governed by both the Framework Act on Environmental Policy and the EIAA, thus, eliminating a great deal of confusion caused by inconsistencies in the acts.

Major revisions include:

1.  Implementation of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessments and Small-Scale Environmental Impact Assessment over Prior Environmental Review under Framework Act on Environmental Policy

The EIAA has abandoned the use of Prior Environmental Review under the Framework Act on Environmental Policy in favor of the often more clear and consistent Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (“SEIA”) and Small-Scale Environmental Impact Assessment.  However, projects approved before implementation of the EIAA will still be governed by the Prior Environmental Review under the prior act. 

The impact of this change is becoming known and it seems like the majority of the proposed “high-level” administrative plans will be governed by the SEIA and not the Prior Environmental Review.

2.  Public Opinion

Public Opinions must be accepted at the SEIA stage in order to increase the perception of transparency.  If requested by residents, public hearings must be held and a report must be published noting if the opinions of public was reflected in the project.

3.  Environmental Impact Evaluators Certified through National Examination

Prior to the EIAA, only those with specific technical backgrounds were qualified to be Environmental Impact Evaluators.  The specific technical backgrounds tended to be too narrow, thus, overlooking many necessary experts.  The EIAA mandates that a National Examination should be held to qualify Environmental Impact Evaluators.  The first test will be held in the second half of 2013.  Environmental Impact Statements will, only, officially, be able to be prepared by those that pass this examination.

We will have to see if those that pass these tests are actually more qualified than the prior Environmental Impact Evaluators that were often criticized for lacking in their ability to adequately evaluate more technical projects.

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal.  He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.

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