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Environmental Impact Assessment - Essay Example

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Recently, several commentators have shown that public policy has become increasingly dependent on scientific expertise (Campbell, 1985; Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1992; Boehmer-Christiansen, 1994; Litfin, 1994;Albaek, 1995). The traditional worlds of science and policy, however, are not designed for mutual communication; consequently, the growing dependence of policy on science has been fraught with problems…
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Environmental Impact Assessment
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Download file to see previous pages In view of this the need for a well-developed account of how scientific research ought to be integrated into public policy in general and into environmental policy in particular has never been more urgent (Thompson, 1986; Stonehouse & Mumford, 1995; Litfin, 1994). This article makes a contribution to the ongoing debate by examining one of the newer, and fast-growing, scientific fields, i.e., environmental impact assessment (from hereon EIA) with the aim of highlighting the question of uncertainty and its implications for policy dependent on this field.
EIA is a relatively new field, and most accounts date its inception to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 in the United States. From this rather limited and inauspicious beginning EIA has now spread to almost all countries. In addition, bi- and multi-lateral agencies have now or are in the process of incorporating EIA at some stage in their policy process (Goodland & Edmundson, 1994).
There are almost as many definitions of EIA as there are experts and, naturally, each expert has a preferred definition. Briefly, however: EIA may be described as a process for identifying the likely consequences for the biogeophysical environment and for man's [sic] health and welfare of implementing particular activities and for conveying this information at a stage when it can materially affect their decision, to those responsible for sanctioning the proposals. (Munn, 1979:6)
In the early stages of its use, the EIA process was seen as a forecasting technique to provide decision makers with an indication of the possible consequences of a proposed intervention. This conceptualisation has been criticized on the grounds that it tends to relegate EIA to being a type of "add on" process. It can be argued that using EIA in this fashion feeds public suspicion that EIA is another scientific technique coopted by policymakers to legitimate decisions. Technical specialists have continuously agitated for closer integration of EIA in the policy process as a means of overcoming this limitation. Policymakers, however, are reluctant to integrate EIA any further into the policy process for several reasons. Two of the most significant of these are: 1. the cost of the impact assessment process makes policymakers reluctant to embark on impact assessment before a proposed project has been given the "green light;" and 2. there is a perception that EIAs make negative information about proposed interventions available to opponents. Thus, further integration of EIA, for example, from project to program level is seen by policymakers as being tantamount to giving opposing stakeholder interests an overview of the entire program. Both of these views gain credence from the fact that EIA reports have often been the baseline documents in well-publicized disputes between governments and environmental activists. Notable cases include the Alaskan pipeline dispute (Gray & Gray, 1977:509-14) and the Hydro Quebec Power Plant controversy (Gariepy & Henault, 1994).
Impact identification is usually accompanied by a scoping process in which the probable impacts worthy of study are singled out. Ideally, this process ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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