By September 10, 2019 Read More →

Assessment of environmental effects for licence application

Under the Space Industry Act, both spaceports and vehicle launch operators will be required to apply for a licence, as covered under Section 11 of the Act. A key aspect to consider as part of the application for a licence is the submission of an assessment of environmental effects (AEE), which is covered in Section 11 subsection 4.

The purpose of the AEE is to enable the regulator to make an assessment as to whether a licence can be granted to the applicant and, if so, what licence conditions are appropriate to use. In an effort to make this aspect of the application not overly onerous, the requirement to submit an AEE could perhaps be met using an equivalent assessment prepared previously in compliance with the requirement imposed under another enactment, or an assessment of environmental effects prepared in connection with a previous application.

In such cases, however, the regulator will make a direction under subsection 4 only if satisfied that there has been no material change of circumstances since the previous assessment was prepared.

Section 11 (4) is an important power under the Space Industry Act. Its purpose is to avoid duplication of assessments in the Space Industry Act and across the existing environmental and planning framework. The AEE is independent of other environmental and planning assessments.

However, environmental assessments conducted in support of applications for these consents can also be used for the AEE. The AEE has been purposely designed to accommodate these assessments insofar as possible.

AEE guidance

The UK Space Agency is now developing the policy behind Section 11 to create a guidance document explaining the AEE process. In developing this policy the Agency has been engaging extensively with other government departments and environmental regulators UK wide and will continue to do so.

The aim is to align the AEE policy with existing environmental policy to create both a robust and proportionate assessment. As part of the development process, the UK Space Agency is planning to hold a regulatory marketplace which will give businesses the opportunity to speak with some of these environmental regulators. As far as the timetable is concerned, the AEE will be published as part of the public consultation in early 2020.

AEE general points

For horizontal spaceports the intention is to align the AEE insofar as possible with existing aerodrome assessments and planning permission, thus streamlining the AEE process using the S.11(4) power. For vertical spaceports, the intention is to make the AEE compatible with the planning permission process.

For launch vehicle operators, the AEE will be required for vertical launch operations, mid air launch operations, sub orbital launch operations and balloon launch operations. Construction activities are not within the scope of the AEE.

How will it work in practice? As can be seen in the figure above, an application will begin with a dialogue on the AEE requirements between the applicant and the regulator. The applicant will then engage a competent expert, who will prepare a scoping document. This will be reviewed by the regulator as part of an ongoing dialogue before the scope of the AEE is agreed. The applicant’s competent expert then drafts the AEE and submits it to the regulator for review. The regulator will then determine if the licence can be granted and, if so, what conditions will be attached.

With the licence having been granted, the onus is on the applicant to report data as per the licence conditions and to notify the regulator of any material changes. The regulator will be monitoring compliance.

Let’s look at each of the steps in the AEE application process in more detail, starting with AEE scoping. The purpose of this exercise is to set the environmental baseline by which the AEE is to be conducted – the final guidance document will explain the scoping requirements in detail. Scoping will enable the applicant to focus on what is important, ensuring the AEE is proportion-ate and not needlessly lengthy.

Though the process will be the same for spaceport and operator AEEs, the contents of the scoping document will differ slightly. As well as detailing the environmental topics, the document for spaceport operators will look at aspects such as the overall spaceport allowance and expected launch frequency, and must consider the vicinity around the spaceport in which effects will be assessed. The scoping document will detail the activities to be considered in the AEE, along with mitigation measures (if known) and cumulative effects.

For the operator AEE, the scoping document will also detail environmental topics, and will go on to specify maximum launch frequency (monthly and yearly), and the areas in which effects will be assessed. It will detail the activities to be considered in the AEE, including mitigation measures (if known) and cumulative effects. Step two sees the regulator looking at the scoping document submitted. Discussions will be held between the applicant and the regulator to understand the assumptions in the scoping document. Amendments may be required. The regulator may seek external expertise in assessing the scoping document received.

When the regulator reaches agreement with applicant on scoping document, scoping is complete, and the AEE is conducted. Four assessments need to be completed against the agreed environ-mental baseline in the scoping document:

  • Assess the significance of the activities’ environmental impacts against the environ-mental topics agreed (without mitigation)
  • Assess the significance of the activities’ environmental impacts against the environ-mental topics agreed (with mitigation, ie what is the mitigation expected to do?)
  • Assess the cumulative environmental impact of the operations and reach a conclusion on significance
  • List mitigation proposals

These assessments should be completed by a competent expert, acting for the applicant and detailed within the AEE.

Once submitted the regulator will then review the AEE. The purpose of this review is for the regulator to determine:

  • Whether the significance findings in the AEE (for each environmental topic, environ-mental topics with mitigation and the overall cumulative effects) are accurate
  • Whether the proposed mitigation is accurate and whether further mitigation should be required in the form of licence conditions
  • Whether licence conditions with regards to the monitoring of environmental effects are necessary

As part of the review, the regulator may seek external expertise in assessing the AEE. In addition, the regulator will consult with the public on the AEE received. This is to comply with existing international and national law. Once the regulator has taken into account the views of the public and assessed the submitted AEE it will determine the licence application and attach relevant licence conditions to the licence.

Post AEE requirements

Of course the AEE is just one of a number of factors the regulator will take into account when determining either a spaceport or launch vehicle operator licence application, but let’s assume that a licence is subsequent granted by the regulator, along with relevant licence conditions. Let’s look, then, at the post AEE requirements.

The licence conditions are there to ensure that environmental protection is maintained. Environmental effects will be considered continually whilst projects are ongoing – environmental protection doesn’t stop at the grant of a licence.

Both spaceport and launch vehicle operator licences will likely have licence conditions attached requiring monitoring and the reporting of data to the regulator. The data that needs to be reported will be driven by the environmental topics identified as sensitive during the AEE process.

Ultimately, the amount and types of licence conditions around environmental monitoring/protection will depend upon the submitted AEE. The UK Space Agency’s proposal is that a spaceport would be responsible for monitoring effects in the vicinity of the spaceport and an operator would be responsible for monitoring effects along the trajectory and at drop zones.

If monitoring shows environmental effects that are more significant than originally predicted, then the AEE may need to be updated. The UK Space Agency intends to regulate this by attaching a material change licence condition to both spaceport and launch vehicle operator licences.

The effect of this condition is that where there has been a material change to the original environmental baseline by which the AEE has been assessed, then a revised AEE must be submitted. Conversely, should environmental effects be better than predicted, a justifiable case could be brought to increase the spaceport cap or launch frequency limit.

Edited from a presentation by Joe Pratt of the UK Space Agency at the Regulation and Legislation Plenary Event at the University of Glasgow

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