Environmental Impact Assessment: Seriously or Pretend?

Wouldn't it have been more serious, technically and scientifically more accurate, less costly and politically correct and transparent to have commissioned a Strategic Environmental Assessment before deciding on the location of the airport?

A progressive government in a civilized Europe cannot ignore the fact that Environment Policy is a fundamental pillar of governance today.

Underlying the defense of the Environment is a whole set of interventions on the territory that determine the degree of quality of life of the population and we are not exactly starting this process in our country.

Since more than 40 years ago, when the first State Secretariat for the Environment was created, measures and legal provisions were progressively deepened in order to guide the country towards sustainable development, where the enjoyment of Nature and its resources, implanted in our territory, guarantee the continuity of production processes.

At that time, Portugal was ranked among the frontline countries in Europe in terms of concerns about the Environment. We were still far from the directives that today are the hallmark of the European Community!

One of the most important instruments for the correct planning of the territory is, without a doubt, the Environmental Impact Assessment Studies (EAIA), which, in principle, should be at the base and precede all interventions that, due to their dimension and characteristics, may interfere with the safeguarding of ecosystems and their dynamic balance.

However, the recent saga of the current Government on the construction of an airport complementary to Lisbon airport, in fact following a process that has been postponed for many years and which reveals at least the weak consistency of the decision-making capacity of the government (and the patience of the governed…), is another paradigmatic case of wanting to look like one thing and ultimately be another.

The importance of the size of the work, the strong impact on the territory and its voluminous cost, should make it necessary, in conscience, to carry out the necessary studies to make the decision on the best location for the new airport.

Instead of that, and for who knows what motives, it was decided that it would be in Montijo and then we'll go there later to see if it has a significant environmental impact. And by chance it did, the EAIA “failed” the airport project. And now? A new study is carried out. Well, if the project is the same and the environmental conditions haven't changed either, what will the new Study decide? Or do you do so many studies until one of them works? Seriously or just pretend?

It would not have been more serious, technically and scientifically sounder, less costly (because EAIAs cost money…) and politically correct and transparent to have commissioned a Strategic Environmental Assessment (the EU even offers a manual, for governments not to say they don't know what it is…) and then decide the location of the airport?

Or the Government (in which the Ministry of Environment says it is not an environmentalist…) was waiting for the fauna of the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve, one of the most important areas in Europe in terms of biodiversity, to be bothered by the work and moved to another place?


Author Fernando Santos Pessoa, landscape architect

Note: The author writes with the old spelling