The SEA report is typically made available for comment by the public and statutory environmental consultees. This helps to ensure that the SEA process has been done well and the decision-making process is transparent.
In many countries, this is a legal requirement. In such cases, the SEA legislation will normally specify who must be consulted, for how long, and how the consultation responses must be dealt with, though the competent authority may well wish to go beyond the legal minimum requirements. For instance, for SEAs prepared by the US Department of Energy:
- the draft SEA report - "draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS)" - must be written in plain language that can be understood by the public
- it must be made available to anyone requesting it, and must be made available for public comment for at least 45 days after it is filed
- the DoE must actively solicit comments from persons or organisations potentially interested in or affected by the proposed action, and must hold at least one public meeting to discuss the draft PEIS
- the final PEIS must address at appropriate stages any 'responsible opposing views' not discussed in the draft PEIS and explain the agency's response to that view
- it must be made publicly available, and a copy must be provided to anyone substantively involved in the SEA process
In Europe, the SEA report must be made available for comment to the statutory environmental consultees and the public, and also to other European Member States that are likely to be affected by the strategic action; and a subsequent "SEA statement" must explain how these comments were taken into account in decision-making.
To date in the UK, public comments on the SEA - as distinct from the strategic action - have typically been very limited, though stakeholders often use the SEA findings to buttress their comments on the strategic action. In contrast, public involvement in SEA in the US is often much greater, with many people attending the public meetings and writing in comments.
Once comments from stakeholders have been received, the competent authority will need to decide whether and how to respond to them. This process should be documented. Below are two typical examples of such documentation:
From a US programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) on expanding civilian energy research ('NI')
The public consultation ran over 52 days and included 7 public meetings attended by a total of 1215 people. It resulted in 3463 comments. The Final PEIS showed all of the comments, and included a 14-page summary of the comments and responses to them. The following is an excerpt related to waste:
"A number of commentators expressed concern over the generation and disposition of waste resulting from the proposed action. In particular, commentors pointed to past [Department of Energy] waste management practices and questioned whether wastes resulting from proposed NI PEIS activities would be properly managed. The NI PEIS addresses wastes produced for each alternative, as well as cumulative impacts related to waste production. Waste minimization programs at each of the alternative sites are also addressed... The waste generated from any of the alternatives considered in the NI PEIS would be managed (i.e. treated, stored and disposed of) in a safe an environmentally protective manner...
The analysis for the Draft NI PEIS assumed that the waste generated from the processing of irradiated neptunium-237 targets is transuranic waste. However, as a result of comments received during the public comment period, [Department of Energy] is considering whether the waste from processing of irradiated neptunium-237 targets should be classified as high-level radioactive waste and not transuranic waste. The waste management sections [of the SEA] were revised to reflect this different classification from what was assumed in the Draft NI PEIS."
|Comment||Summary of comment on draft AA report||How comment was taken on board in this report|
|English Nature||Recommends for air pollution impacts that more detailed assessment should be required for any proposed developments that would result in increases in traffic along roads within 200m of sensitive sites.||Added to proposed avoidance measures.|
|Water company X
||Unhappy with use of figures showing available water headroom.||Figures deleted from report.|
|Reiterates that water resources should not be a constraint provided that the water strategy outlined in the draft regional spatial plan is implemented.||Noted in text at Sec. 3.1.|
|Does not support water neutrality in new development as an avoidance measure.||Water neutrality kept in because the main consultees did not object and the legislation requires a precautionary approach to the issue.|
Of course, many SEAs are carried out, and SEA reports written as an internal tool, without the results being made public. Although one benefit of SEA is that it increases the transparency of SEA and allows more public input into the SEA process, that is not the only, or even main aim of SEA. But beware the decision-maker who is not willing to expose their SEA findings to public scrutiny: why not?