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Updated to: 27 June 2011Download as PDF
Secretaría Técnica Nacional del Ambiente
Address: Barrio Escalante, de la Iglesia Santa Teresita 300 metros Norte y 175 metros Este; San José
Tel: (506) 2234-3420
Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones
Address: Avenida 8 y 10, calle 25.
Del Edificio de la Corte Suprema de Justicia 200 E, frente a la Iglesia Votivo Corazón de Jesús
Tel: (506) 2233 4533
History of ESIA
The incorporation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was made into The Mining Code of 1982. After that, in 1992 the obligation to make Environmental Impact Assessment Studies in Wild Life Refuges was established. In 1994 the first specific EIA Regulation (DE-23785) was promulgated, which included, for the first time, a categorization and screening list for activities, construction work and projects that should be submitted for environmental assessment. In 1995, with the Environmental Organic Law, EIA was established as an obligatory requirement for all activities that alter or destruct elements of the environment or generate waste, toxic or dangerous materials, including previous approval from the National Environmental Technical Secretariat (SETENA).
In 1996 through a new regulation (DE-23785), the EIA procedures were amplified and developed determining how to carry out the screening and scoping through a new categorization system, activity lists and Preliminary Environmental Assessment Form (FEAP); it also regulated the mechanisms for an environmental guarantee, public participation and the functioning of environmental consultants registration.
Currently the Costa Rican Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system is funded on the Costa Rican Political Constitution, the Environmental Organic Law and the General Regulation for the EIA Procedures of 2004.
1982: Environmental Impact Assessment Studies are required for mining projects according to The Mining Code
1992: Environmental Impact Assessment Studies are required for developing projects in Wild Life Refuges (Executive Decree 21597)
1994: First specific EIA Regulation that determines the screening and scoping procedures.
1995: The approval of the Environmental Organic Law (LOA).
1995: EIA procedures are required for all activities that alter or destruct elements of the environment or generate waste, toxic or dangerous materials (LOA).
1996: Approval of a new EIA procedure that amplifies and develops the EIA Procedures according to Environmental Organic Law (LOA).
2004: Approval of the General Regulation for the EIA Procedures.
The Legal frame is the Environmental Organic Law (Law No. 7554 of 1995).
National detailed regulation for ESIA
General Regulation for EIA procedures (Executive Decree 31849) and the Technical Instruments Manual for the EIA procedure. 2004
Sector specific procedures or regulations on EIA
The current EIA regulation includes a list (Annex 1) of all the projects that according to international treaties, laws and specific regulations should comply with the EIA procedures.
- EIA Manual- Part I. Contains the instructions to complete the Initial Environmental Assessment Form for activities, construction work or projects from categories C and B2 in areas with a Regulatory Plan or D2 forms (Executive Decree 32079 of September 14, 2004, published in the official government Newspaper “La Gaceta” No. 217 on November 5, 2004).
- EIA Manual- Part II. Develops the guidelines to complete the Initial Environmental Assessment Form for activities, construction work or projects from categories A, B1 and B2 in areas without Regulatory Plans or D1 forms (Executive Decree 32712 of July 19, 2005, published in the official government Newspaper “La Gaceta” No. 223 on November 18, 2005).
- EIA Manual- Part III. Contains the guidelines to incorporate the environmental variable in the urban Regulatory Plans (Executive Decree 32967 of February 20, 2006, published in the official government Newspaper “La Gaceta” No. 85 on May 4, 2006).
- EIA Manual- Part IV. Describes the guidelines to carry out Environmental Management Plans (P-PGA). (Executive Decree 32966 of February 20, 2006, published in the official government Newspaper “La Gaceta” No. 85 on May 4, 2006).
- The Guide of Best Environmental Practices (CBPA) contains environmental practices that all developers should comply with, regardless the environmental category that the activity, construction work or project is in, as a supplement to the environmental regulations in the country.
- The ethical Code of the developer should be considered for all environmental consultants.
- The Environmental Guide for Construction, official since July of 2008, is a technical instrument of reference, not obligatory, for the orderly and systematic planning and execution of environmental measurement, prevention, correction, mitigation, minimization and compensation for actions of the construction activity that may cause a significant effect on the environment. This Guide was elaborated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD).
Scope of ESIA application
According to the environmental law, all “… the human activities that alter or destruct elements of the environment or generate waste, toxic or dangerous materials, will require an environmental impact assessment”.
An EIA should be made if any activity, construction work or project is to be developed if:
- It is found in the List that according to specific International treaties, laws and regulations require the EIA procedure (Annex 1 of the Executive Decree 31849).
- New activities, construction works or projects are found in the List of activities, construction works or projects subject to the EIA procedure that no existing specific laws covers (Annex 2 of the Executive Decree 31849).
Additionally, projects are categorized into three levels (A, B and C), according to their potential environmental impact.
Exemptions from ESIA application
There is no mention of any exemptions from the EIA procedures in the Regulation.
However, there has already been a jurisprudential precedent emanated from the constitutional Court for “state needs” declared by the State. In 1997 it was declared “a state need through a decree to carry out “maintenance activities” from the effects of Hurricane Cesar which exempted the administrative procedures including the one related to EIA.
Central ESIA authority
The central authority of the EIA system is the National Environmental Technical Secretariat (SETENA). It is an agency of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET).
SETENA is divided into the following departments: General Secretary, Technical Advisory Unit, Initial Environmental Assessment Unit, Environmental monitoring and follow up Unit and the Jurisdictional Advisory Unit. There are two more units called Information and Planning and the Administration Unit.
Other key (governmental) parties involved in ESIA, and their roles
There are no obligations in the regulation for SETENA to consult other institutions in the assessment of the Environmental Impact Studies. The following governmental entities participate, in one way or another, in the EIA procedure:
- Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce - Establishes a list of productive activities according to ISIC.
- Ministry of Health. It has a representative in the plenary Commission of SETENA. It establishes a list of productive activities according to ISIC subject to sanitary procedures.
- Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. It has a representative in the plenary Commission of SETENA.
- Costa Rican Tourist Institut. It has a representative in the plenary Commission of SETENA.
- Costa Rican Institute of Electricity. It has a representative in the plenary Commission of SETENA.
- Mixed Commission on Monitoring and Environmental Control (COMMA). It is a participative entity that controls and carries out environmental activity, construction work and projects of Category A that have been approved by EIA. The following governmental institutions, among other representatives of the private sector and civil society, form a part of this commission:
• National Environmental Technical Secretariat
• Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry
• Ministry of Health
• Ministry of Public Works and Transportation
• Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce
• Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock
• Costa Rican Institute of Electricity
• Central American Commission on Environment and Development
• Technical Secretary of the commission on regulatory improvement.
According to the EIA regulation the following non governmental entities participate, in one form or other in EIA procedure:
- Technical Advisory Commission of SETENA- Auxiliary advisory agency on environmental matters, integrated in a equilibrated manner by representatives from the Executive Power, private sector, NGOs, and environmental consultants. Its principal function is to give technical support to SETENA on EIA themes.
- Accredited External Consultant- A physical or juridical person that is accredited by the Costa Rican Accrediting Agency (ECA) and can be contacted by SETENA for support in the EIA procedure.
(De)centralisation of ESIA mandates
The central authority of the EIA system is the National Environmental Technical Secretariat (SETENA). However, decision making lies with the Plenary Commission represented by various State Institutions, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Ministry of Water Works, Costa Rican Institute of Electricity and the Ministry of Health.
As indicated in the executive decree, a charge exists for this process that should be paid to a National Bank account. The amount to be paid is proportional to the amount of investment in the project.
ESIA procedure - overview
The National Environmental Technical Secretariat (SETENA) uses two mechanisms to make a decision on whether a project should present an environmental assessment or not, and to assign the most adequate one based on its potential environmental impact:
- Category A: High Potential Environmental Impact.
- Category B: Moderate Potential Environmental Impact;
- Category C: Low Potential Environmental Impact;
- Initial environmental qualification or the initial environmental assessment. It is necessary to fill out the initial environmental assessment form D1 or D2.
Depending on the projects impact, the instrument required can be an Environmental Impact Study (EsIA); an Environmental Management Plan (P-PGA) or a Jurisdictional Oath of Environmental Compromises (DICA).
Through executive decree 21597 in 1992, the presentation and assessment of Environmental Impact Studies for activities, construction works or projects to be developed within Wild Life Refuges were regulated.
Additionally, for classifying an initial environmental assessment, the List of Environmental Fragile Areas has to be taken into account, Annex 3 of the Regulation, to identify the environmental technical limits and promote changes in the project to remedy these.
Contents of the starting document
The initial environmental assessment form D1 contains the following:
- General information on the consultant, who is the legal representative of the project.
- General information about the Project: geographic location, current phase, potential environmental impact and a certified statement on the amount of the investment.
- A Basic Technical study of the terrain.
- Technical study on the geology of the ground.
- A rapid Archeological study of the terrain.
- Basic characterization on the project area and its area of influence.
- Climatic data over the Project area.
- Consumption and affection of water, soil energy and biotope.
- Impact on water, air, soil and human beings.
- Risks involved with the management of fuels, radioactive material, agrochemicals and dangerous substances.
- Safeguard about security and prevention of contaminants.
- General information of the, construction work or project.
The initial environmental assessment form D1 contains the following:
- General information on the activity.
- General information on the administrative location and its geography.
- General information on the consultant, who is the legal representative of the project.
- General information about the Project: geographic location, current phase, potential environmental impact (ISIC) and a certified statement on the amount of the investment.
- Current basic environmental characterization on the area of influence.
- Relevant environmental aspects: consumption, impact, risks.
This phase corresponds to the formal revision of the Environmental Impact Assessment Instrument. The revision focuses on classifying the quality of the document to find out if it complies with:
- the formal and administrative aspects;
- the minimum technical quality requirements and
- the environmental sustainability of the project.
SETENA hands to the Developer the Terms of Reference founded on the Initial Environmental Assessment previously presented.
Contents of the scoping document
In the last stage of the initial phase, the assessment office communicates to the developer, by a written resolution stating the assessment instrument and the terms of reference that are needed to obtain the environmental viability of the project. Depending on the projects impact, the instrument required can be an Environmental Impact Study (EsIA); an Environmental Management Plan (P-PGA) or a Jurisdictional Oath of Environmental Compromises (DICA).
SETENA is in charge of analyzing the environmental assessment instruments. The interested third parties can also intervene in the assessment procedure and for this reason influence in the final decision making. At this time no official procedure exists to carry out the revision of the environmental assessment instruments. Generally an examiner is assigned for each project and he is the one who emits a technical report to the Plenary Commission for one last discussion on it.
Contents of the EIA report
The Environmental Management Plan (P-PGA) contains the following:
- Description of the project.
- The physical, biological and social medium.
- Identification of the significant impacts.
- Assessment of the significant impacts.
- Protocols of the environmental measurements.
- Environmental Management Plan.
- Contingency Plan.
- Control and Monitoring Plan.
- Synthesis of the environmental commitments.
- References and Annexes.
Along with other requirements of legal information, the Project description will have the following as found in Part IV of the Manual:
Description of the project.
- Description of the legal rules.
- Description of the physical medium.
- Description of the biological medium.
- Description of the social/economic environment.
- Environmental Diagnostic.
- Assessment of impacts and corrective measures, includes alternative analysis.
- Prognostic Plan of Environmental Management.
- Risk analysis and Contingency Plans.
- Financial and Economical Analysis.
- Other specific terms.
- Environmental Quality of the AP and its Biophysical and Social Area of influence (direct and indirect).
- The minimal professional equipment that should be used for the Study
Accreditation of consultants
Consulting companies should register with The Registry of Consultants in SETENA.
The revision focuses on assessing the quality of the document to see if it effectively complies with the formal and administrative aspects, the minimum requirements of technical quality and the environmental sustainability of the project. However, no public administrative procedure exists.
Depending on the head of the assessment office the following steps apply:
- Assignment of a assessment examiner.
- For projects in category A, a visit to the field is made before a technical report is issued.
- The elaboration of a technical report.
- The Plenary Commission revises the technical report and issues an administrative resolution.
When SETENA considers it appropriate, it consults other governmental entities for their opinion.
10 days. Projects in category C or B2 that lay within areas that have a regulatory plan, have a 4 week resolution period starting from the time of presentation of form D2.
Four weeks. Projects in category A, B1 or B2 that lay within areas without a regulatory plan have a 4 week resolution period starting from the time of presentation of form D1. This period could be extended to a maximum of 5 months more.
Integration of ESIA into decision-making
According to the EIA regulation, the assessment office of SETENA produces a technical report from the analysis made of the presented environmental assessment instrument. For the final decision making, this report is discussed in the Plenary Commission to issue an administrative resolution. In case this administrative resolution is favourable, it grants the viability or environmental license to the activity, construction work or project.
The Plenary Commission of SETENA, after analyzing the technical decisions made by the examiners, issues a verdict that is communicated through an administrative resolution to the proposer.
Additionally, the environmental viabilities are published on SETENA´s web site.
Environmental Regent: Contacted by the project proponent. According to RGEIA, this person is responsible for looking after the fulfillment of the environmental promises. The Environmental Regent’s obligation is to inform SETENA, as the national authority, on results of environmental monitoring of the project, activity or construction work. The Environmental Regent’s obligation is to have an environmental logbook that records the implemented details of the procedures or instructions defined for the project.
The Environmental Logbook: An official notebook certified by SETENA in which The Environmental Regent records the implemented details of the procedures or instructions defined for the project.
In case the Project manager does not comply with the environmental promises at any stage of the project, SETENA is can execute, totally or partially, the environmental guarantee, without detriment to other sanctions.
Public participation requirements for ESIA process stages
SETENA, in accordance with Environmental Organic Law (LOA) establishes various mechanisms that manage public participation in the EIA procedures, such as:
- including opinion polls in the Environmental Impact Study (EsIA) and including in some prognostics – an Environmental Management Plan (P-PGA) ;
- elaboration of a summary of Environmental Impact Study (EsIA) called Environmental Impact Declaration (EID) that is given to the municipality where the project is located;
- publication of the resumed information in a daily nationwide newspaper about the entrance of an Environmental Impact Study (EsIA) in the revision procedure of SETENA and the formal period during which the document may be revised and observations presented.
Along with these mechanisms, there also exists the possibility of developing public audiences on the subject. On the other hand, through the functioning of COMIMA, an important space for participation is opened during the control and tracing stages of the activity, construction work or project located in Category A with the Environmental Impact Study (EsIA) approved. As far as possible in this commission, there should be one representative from SETENA, one representative of the developer, one representative from the municipality and one representative from the community where the activity, construction work or project will be developed.
Every person, physical or judicial, public or private, has the right to be heard by SETENA, in accordance with Environmental Organic Law (LOA), at whatever stage in the assessment process and the operational stage of activities, construction work or project. The mechanisms for this are the following:
The writings that are presented to the SETENA offices.
The private audiences held with the Plenary Commission of SETENA and with any of its technical departments.
The observations made are filed and valuated in the final report.
Timeline for public comments
The Regulation does not establish them. They will be published in a press announcement.
Access to information
A summary of the Environmental Impact Study (EsIA) called Environmental Impact Declaration (EID) is given to the municipality where the project is located and it can be consulted there.
The resumed information is published in a daily nationwide newspaper about the entrance of an Environmental Impact Study in the revision procedure of SETENA and the formal period during which the document may be revised and observations presented.
The Environmental Impact Studies (EsIA), the prognostics on the Environmental Management Plan (P-PGA) and the Jurisdictional Oaths of Environmental Compromises (DICA) can be consulted in the registry at SETENA. In addition there is a list published on the SETENA web site of the environmental viabilities granted by SETENA.
Possibilities for appeal
Opposition to decisions made by SETENA is applied following the regulatory recourses in the Contentious Administration Law.
A denouncement can be made against any authority, act or omission already done that generates contamination and deterioration or loss of natural resources or anything that effects the quality of life.
The proponent and citizens can appeal against decisions made by SETENA
Annual no. of ESIAs
The total number of applications (D1 and D2) presented to SETENA:
- 2006, 1326
- 2007, 3951
- 2008, 3522
Central ESIA database
A record is kept but not for public disclosure
- Center for Environmental Rights and Natural Resources (CEDARENA)
- Work Group for Environmental Impact Assessment of Central America