Authorise or risk being penalised: The National Environmental Management Act

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We tend to sometimes forget the importance of NEMA (National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998)  and the impact it has on the conducting of our business activities, especially in the Agricultural sector.

Section 24(1) of NEMA states that to give effect to the general objectives of integrated environmental management, the potential impact on the environment, socio-economic conditions and the cultural heritage, of activities that require authorisation or permission by law and which may significantly affect the environment, must be considered, investigated and assessed prior to their implementation.

The building of a bridge, construction of a dam or the clearing of a vegetation all falls within the ambit of listed activities that require environmental authorisation. There are also instances where an environmental authorisation is not needed, subject to approval from the relevant state department.

What does the environmental authorisation process entail? It entails that you firstly do an environmental impact assessment (“EIA”) to determine the impact the activity will have on the environment. The purpose of this process is for the relevant state department to make an informed decision, maximize socio-economic outcomes and maintain the integrity of the environment.

The EIA process consists of the following stages:

  • Screening;
  • Scoping;
  • Specialist studies;
  • Integration and Assessment;
  • Public Participation;
  • Authority review and decision-making;
  • Implementation;
  • Monitoring

The EIA process is systematic, holistic and multi-disciplinary. Its major benefit is advice on improved project design that lowers the cost of impaired human health, loss of natural resources and financial penalties for remediation and compensation for harm caused to the environment.

Failure to follow this process may result in a criminal record, a fine in excess of R5 000 000-00 or even direct imprisonment.

NEMA now permits courts to hold directors, managers, employees and agents personally liable for harm caused to the environment or for failing to take the reasonable steps necessary to avoid harm or degradation to the environment.

Avoid paying an unnecessary fine, facing criminal charges or putting your company at risk. Let us help you avoid the excessive monetary penalty, mitigate unnecessary risk or even simply advise you on your prospects of success. We are confident that we can assist you with any environmental law related matter. We will gladly help.