Environmental Impact Assessment Review

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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process where several stakeholders take part, each with different interests, making bias unavoidable and a major cause of concern, but there is a big difference between inherent stakeholders' bias and manipulation, an illegitimate attempt to alter decisions for spurious interests. Although manipulation has usually been attributed to developers, any stakeholder may try to use it for self-benefit. In this paper we analyse manipulation possibilities, and how they can be used by stakeholders. While bias is unavoidable and should be reduced, understood and managed in EIA, manipulation is unacceptable and must be excluded.
  Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Environmental Impact Assessment Review  journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/eiar Stakeholders' manipulation of Environmental Impact Assessment Álvaro Enríquez-de-Salamanca  DRABA Ingeniería y Consultoría Medioambiental, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Cañada Nueva, 13, 28200 San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain A R T I C L E I N F O  Keywords: EIAStakeholdersBiasManipulation A B S T R A C T Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process where several stakeholders take part, each with di ff  erentinterests, making bias unavoidable and a major cause of concern, but there is a big di ff  erence between inherentstakeholders' bias and manipulation, an illegitimate attempt to alter decisions for spurious interests. Althoughmanipulation has usually been attributed to developers, any stakeholder may try to use it for self-bene 󿬁 t. In thispaper we analyse manipulation possibilities, and how they can be used by stakeholders. While bias is un-avoidable and should be reduced, understood and managed in EIA, manipulation is unacceptable and must beexcluded. 1. Introduction Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process where severalstakeholders take part with di ff  erent interests and expertise, which maylead to intentional or unintentional bias in their opinions; but the linebetween bias and manipulation may be unclear.As a general concept, the de 󿬁 nition of manipulation is to interfereunscrupulously in politics, in the market, in information, etc., with adistortion of truth or justice at the service of particular interests. In EIA,manipulation is a premeditated bias with spurious interests introducedin order to modify decisions for self-bene 󿬁 t; this includes both the in-tent to deceive and the actions needed to achieve the intent (badpractices), such as using false, exaggerated or altered information, orhiding it, with an illegitimate use of the EIA process through politicalpressures or by media manipulation, for example. An interest is spur-ious when it is not what it purports to be, is fake, or appears to be whatis not. It is di ffi cult to determine the reasons for bad practices, whichmay be an attempt to manipulate, or be due to professional bias, erroror unskilled professionals, for example. What is really important is toavoid these bad practices in EIA, rather than discussing their srcin; butto do that, it is necessary to know the motivations, such as manipula-tion, and its possible expression in each stakeholder, as a tool to helpdetect and eliminate them.Williams and Dupuy (2017) use the term corruption when referringto EIA, associating it with conditions of secrecy and power imbalancesexerted by powerful stakeholders such as developers or politicians.Corruption is the abuse of a public or private o ffi ce for personal gain(OECD, 2008; World Bank, 1997), the misuse of entrusted power forprivate gain (Ministry of Foreign A ff  airs of Denmark, 2011;Transparency International, 2017), or the exercise of o ffi cial powerswithout regard for public interest (Yingling, 2013). The last authordi ff  erentiates conventional corruption, when government o ffi cials il-legally abuse public o ffi ce for private gain, and unconventional cor-ruption, when elected o ffi cials make decisions without regard for publicinterest, in order to achieve re-election to public o ffi ce. The Council of Europe and the United Nations Conventions establish various forms of corruption o ff  ences: bribery, extortion, facilitation payment, collusion,fraud, obstruction of justice, embezzlement, misappropriation, tradingin 󿬂 uence, abuse of function, illicit enrichment or money laundering(UNODC, 2012); manipulation is not included, although it may be as-sociated with some of these o ff  ences. Most de 󿬁 nitions associate cor-ruption with public o ffi ce; Etzioni-Halevy (1989) notes that anyone putinto a position of power is tempted to use public o ffi ce for personal gainand advantage.Manipulation is a wider concept, not necessarily associated with anentrusted power or a public o ffi ce; any stakeholder may try to manip-ulate EIA, so a broader vision is necessary regarding this concept.Williams and Dupuy (2017) include a literature review on corruptionand EIA; but literature has undervalued some forms of manipulation ina biased (probably involuntary) way, focussing on developers. For ex-ample, their review includes as a corruption risk that the public isbribed to give their consent to projects, but not that the public itself bribes someone to change a project. However, our paper does not dis-agree with these authors' work, but complements it.The possibilities of manipulation di ff  er according to stakeholders.The public can and must objectively defend their interests; but usingfalse information is unacceptable. Politicians should defend generalinterest, so to defend another interest is manipulation or corruption.Practitioners should make a great e ff  ort to be objective, minimize bias,and avoid manipulation; ethics and professionalism are essential. The http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2017.10.003Received 10 July 2017; Received in revised form 3 October 2017; Accepted 3 October 2017  E-mail address:  aenriquez@draba.org. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 68 (2018) 10–180195-9255/ © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. M R  integrity of the developer is also essential, because it is the agent whoseinterests and power make it more likely to take shortcuts throughmanipulation.In this paper we make a systematic analysis of the di ff  erent forms of manipulation and their possible use by stakeholders, including ex-amples from Spanish EIA practice during the last two decades to il-lustrate the issues raised. The choice of these examples is based on theirsuitability to clarify the types of manipulation discussed, but not bytheir frequency or signi 󿬁 cance; from our experience, EIA in Spain is notvery manipulated, but it is possible to 󿬁 nd in it, as probably in any othercountry, examples of manipulation. The aim of the paper is to highlightthe existence of a wide typology of manipulation attempts, and to helpidentify and exclude them from EIA.The paper is not a systematic review but a joint work of literaturereview and professional practice. This structure has been chosen be-cause an important limitation in analysing manipulation in EIA is thebias of academic literature, which tends to focus this practice on pro-moters and consultants, or at most in politicians, but not in other sta-keholders such as public or even academics themselves. Consequently,a review of the literature, although interesting, does not provide acomplete view of the problem, and it is necessary to incorporate opi-nions from professional experience, objectively raised, to address thistopic, and to enrich the debate on EIA. 2. Forms of manipulation In order to establish the possible forms of manipulation we havetaken into account both the literature and the practice in EIA. Practicalexamples have been included to help understand the forms of manip-ulation cited, most of them based on the author's experience, sometimessupplemented by published references. Accusing anyone of manipula-tion is tricky, because it is a practice inherently subtle, hidden or notevident, di ffi cult to prove; often, although its existence seems certain,there is a lack of evidence. For this reason, in the examples cited in thetext we have avoided including detailed information about the projects,which, moreover, is not of particular interest for the purpose of thispaper. Despite the lack of evidence, these are actual examples from EIApractice, and as such, we consider them to be interesting to illustratethe ways in which manipulation can be manifested.  2.1. False information A clear case of EIA manipulation is the premeditated use of falseinformation. False information may include, for example, fraudulentuse of data, unreal prices to reduce or increase budgets, wrong refer-ences to laws in order to support opinions, or false viability judgments.The last case is not rare; an alternative may be considered not techni-cally viable to discard it and exclude it from EIA. On a motorway inNorthern Spain the developer indicated that an alternative was geo-technically non-viable, but during public information an expert de-monstrated that this was false; it was viable, although more expensivethan the other alternatives (see also Section 3.3). Flyvbjerg et al. (2002) indicate that cost underestimation in transportation infrastructureprojects cannot be explained by error and is best explained by lying, asystematic fallacy (Flyvbjerg, 2013). Morgan (2012) notes the fear that the increased weight given to the  󿬁 nancial viability of developmentswill further reduce the in 󿬂 uence of EIA on decisions; if costs are ma-nipulated, EIA can be too.Sometimes false information is given about the objective of theproject to facilitate approval; the restoration of a mill and the con-struction of a farm-school, both submitted to EIA, were actually hotels,although the Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) did not indicateit.  2.2. False alternatives or unnecessary elements A practice not uncommon in EIA is to propose alternatives knowingin advance that they are unfeasible or very unfavourable, to comparethem with the one that is intended to be chosen, and discarding them inan apparently objective process (Gregory et al., 1992). The EIA of roadsin Spain is rich in these fake alternatives; a bad alternative may cease tobe so when there are others that are worse.It is also possible to introduce controversial and unnecessary ele-ments, and later remove them to demonstrate goodwill (Sager, 2006).The tunnel of a high-speed railway in Central Spain supposedly neededan emergency exit, which a ff  ected a colony of black vultures. Althoughthe EIS considered the impact acceptable, during the EIA the environ-mental agency indicated that it would be unacceptable; the railwaydepartment deleted it from the project, and  󿬁 nally the line was builtwithout this exit, which was not really essential.  2.3. Exaggerated information Sometimes part of the information that supports a project is notexactly false, but exaggerated. An example is tra ffi c forecast in roadplanning; depending on assumptions (e.g. tra ffi c growth rate) the re-sults may support the feasibility of a project. During the 2000s, tra ffi cforecasts in Spain were too optimistic, in part due to the strong tra ffi cgrowth since the 1990s (truncated by the economic crisis), but alsounreal predictions were made; the tra ffi c forecast for a motorway inNorthern Spain was manipulated until it reached an intensity that justi 󿬁 ed it, being an essential justi 󿬁 cation of the project in the EIS andthe whole EIA process. Tennøy et al. (2006) indicate that predictions,data and assumptions were biased in order to make the Norwegiantrain-based transport system appear more economically sound than itreally was. Flyvbjerg (2007) speaks about  “ optimism bias ”  or, as thesame author indicates (Flyvbjerg et al., 2002), lies. During the 2000s,several toll roads and airports were designed, submitted to EIA andbuilt in Spain based on very optimistic forecasts of utilization; at pre-sent, most are in bankruptcy.Biased positive information increases the chance that an en-vironmentally unfriendly alternative is chosen (Mostert, 1996); if it ispremeditated it is manipulation. An example is the exaggerated em-phasis on the economic advantages of some activities or infrastructures,without objective support; these arguments are frequent in the EIA of projects with strong social rejection (e.g. employment and regional orlocal economic advantages in mining).  2.4. Withhold information A form of manipulation that is di ffi cult to detect is to hide in-formation or, as Sager (2006) calls it, withhold information. The de 󿬁 -nition of a project under EIA varies a lot, so it is not easy to know if some information is hidden, for example, about objectives or char-acteristics. The EIS of a river restoration project in Southern Spain hidthat the real objective was channelling the streams to allow housing inthe surroundings. EISs may hide environmental resources, especially if they are not widely known. Public or pressure groups sometimes hidetheir real interests during the EIA, or even lie about them.  2.5. Undervalue or overvalue impacts The value of environmental resources or impacts is open to inter-pretation and it may be biased, or even manipulated by any stakeholderin order to support their interests. Manipulation occurs, for example,when a resource is undervalued to lessen the expected impact on it.Sometimes EISs use inconsistent criteria to undervalue impacts. TheEISs of a power line and a pipeline in Spain, both crossing several riversincluded in Natura 2000 Network, undervalue this impact indicatingthat the a ff  ected area is limited, without further analysis. The criterion  Á. Enríquez-de-Salamanca  Environmental Impact Assessment Review 68 (2018) 10–18 11  “ small a ff  ected area ”  is frequently used to undervalue impacts, butsome impacts on a reduced area may be critical. A frequently under-valued impact in many EIS is climate change contribution; it is con-sidered that projects have little in 󿬂 uence on climate change, andtherefore the impact is not assessed (Smith, 2010). The same occurswith other cumulative impacts.It is also possible to overvalue impacts without any objective rea-sons to justify alternatives that avoid them. Sometimes it is a  “ well-intentioned manipulation ” , for example when consultants or environ-mental agencies assign higher values than normal to some natural re-sources in order to avoid damage; although the objective may belaudable, the distance from well-intentioned to spurious manipulationis limited. During the screening phase of a nursery located in a croplandinside a Birds' Special Protection Area, the environmental agency statedthat the project a ff  ected the integrity of the area without any justi 󿬁 -cation, automatically leading to a negative EIA. Also, sometimes en-vironmental NGOs overvalue natural resources during scoping or publicparticipation in EIA processes to reinforce their opposition to a project;although well-intentioned, it may be manipulation if they know that thestatement is exaggerated.  2.6. Confusing or complex information It is di ffi cult to de 󿬁 ne how information should be presented in EIAprocesses. Scienti 󿬁 c and technical rigor requires the use of expert lan-guage and statements, but this may hinder the understanding of thestudy to a non-expert public, a ff  ecting public participation (Hartley andWood, 2005; Sager, 2006; Eckerd, 2017). A common solution is to in-clude non-technical summaries in the EIS, but this allows a manipulatedmanagement if it is sought to hamper the public participation.  2.7. Self-censorship Probably the subtlest form of manipulation is to remain silent whilehaving relevant information in order to avoid con 󿬂 icts or reprisals.When the one who is silent is a normal citizen, it is understandable(heroicity cannot be demanded), but if it is a public agency, an asso-ciation or even an academic institution, which should seek social in-terest, it is a manipulation by omission. The management of funds bypoliticians is a very powerful tool of control, which may promote si-lence.  2.8. Administrative manipulation of EIA process There are several ways to manipulate EIA processes. In screeningand scoping phases, the competent authority or EIA agency shoulddecide who is consulted and this allows either bias in the decision ormanipulation if someone is deliberately excluded. An undesirable (andnot rare) practice is to submit an EIS to public information duringholidays to reduce participation, especially from public or NGOs; if thecoincidence of dates is not accidental, it is manipulation. This is moreprone to occur in public projects where the developer and competentauthority coincide. Also, the date of publication of announcementsabout public information in local press, or the media chosen, can beused in a manipulative way.Another way of manipulation is related to the availability of in-formation during public participation; if the consultation is di ffi cult, theparticipation will be lower. Information technologies make it easier forthe public to access information, but at the moment e-governance isused predominantly for sharing information but not for promotingdialogue (Sinclair et al., 2017).As noted below (see Section 3.5) it is possible to manipulate EIAprocesses by requesting successive additional information, sometimesvery complex and not really necessary.The strongest manipulation of EIA is to circumvent it. This could bedone for political reasons, for example, arguing that the project is vital(Lawrence, 2013). This has happened in two roads in Central Spain,both excluded of EIA through political decisions, and both ended in thecourts due to the failure to comply with the European Union (EU) EIADirective. In the  󿬁 rst, the political objective was to accelerate theworks, avoiding EIA;  󿬁 nally, an EIS was done with the works alreadycompleted. In the second, there were strong discrepancies in whetherthe project was necessary (accident reduction versus environmentaldamages), and the Regional Government exempts it from EIA; the EUCourt ruled against this decision, resulting in a long judicial process.Another way is to split up a project into homogeneous or hetero-geneous parts in order to avoid reaching EIA thresholds, or to minimizethe global impact (Enríquez-de-Salamanca, 2016). It is not rare inprojects related to land use change, mining, livestock, dams, wind farmsor roads. Thresholds favour projects that do not reach them (Glassonet al., 2012), and it is also possible to accommodate projects to caselaw; this can lead to manipulations (Enríquez-de-Salamanca, 2016) like “ design under-thresholds ”  (e.g. livestock farms) and  “ splitting en-gineering ”  (e.g. wind farms).  2.9. Bribes and kickbacks Williams and Dupuy (2017) include as corruption risks in EIA (re-ferring to Albania) bribes and kickbacks in order to include some dataor interpret it favourably, in procurement, to the public to give theirconsent to projects or to government o ffi cials. There are also referencesto bribes in order to have positive EIA resolutions in mining projects inMongolia (IRIM et al., 2016) and Guatemala (Dougherty, 2015) and in construction in Malaysia (Abidin, 2010), for example. Another form of bribery is o ff  ering gifts; as Wei (1999) notes, culture shapes the dif-ference between a bribe and a gift, but the line between courtesy andbribery is subtle. These practices are unfortunately not uncommon inpublic procurement, but there is no evidence that they a ff  ect EIA inSpain (albeit with some isolated suspicion); it could be critical if it af-fects evaluators.As noted above, there are some isolated cases in Spain where thepublic tried to bribe developers or consultants in order to change pro- jects. For example, in a motorway EIS a cattle farmer o ff  ered money toconsultants to modify the layout and bypass his land. In another roadproject, submitted to EIA, there are suspicions (without evidence) of possible landowners' bribes to the regional road authority (or someonein it) in order to avoid passing through their properties.  2.10. Extortion Williams and Dupuy (2017) also include extortion as a theoreticalcorruption risk, related to collecting data or interpreting it favourably.In a wider sense, any stakeholder that depends  󿬁 nancially on another,directly (labour/trade contract) or indirectly (subsidies) can be threa-tened or extorted. National or regional governments can threaten localgovernments, especially small ones, with reducing investment in theirterritory if their position is contrary to a project. 3. Manipulation possibilities by stakeholders 3.1. Developers Developers promote projects, and are obviously interested in theirsuccess. When these projects are subject to EIA the  󿬁 rst stage for asuccessful development is to obtain a positive resolution in this process;consequently, developers have a personal interest in a favourable EIA,and will try to achieve it; manipulation is a tempting shortcut.Developers carry out projects and their EIS, so the risk of bias andmanipulation is clear but it depends on their integrity. In the next point,the role of EIA consultants is analysed; but their work is based on theproject, so a manipulated project produces a manipulated EIS, althoughconsultants may not be aware of this. There are several ways of   Á. Enríquez-de-Salamanca  Environmental Impact Assessment Review 68 (2018) 10–18 12  manipulation when drafting a project, such as using false or ex-aggerated information, or hiding data, some of them di ffi cult to detect.A frequent way of manipulation is to exclude alternatives, or just selectone of them, arguing engineering reasons, which are not totally true oreven false, or to introduce fake alternatives. Other ways are hiding realobjectives, or making optimistic (or false) predictions about use, costsor social advantages of the project.Practitioners generally believe that EIA is bene 󿬁 cial to all stake-holders, but this message is not obvious outside this community(Morrison-Saunders et al., 2015). For example, developers do notusually favour public participation, because they do not see the positiveside of this process (Glasson et al., 2012); as a result, they are likely tohide information, or not clearly state data that may be controversial. 3.2. EIA consultants EIA is a process based on prediction (Glasson et al., 2012), antici-patory judgments about foreseeable impacts; it is not a pure science(Beattie, 1995), but an art and a science (Kennedy, 1988), or an applied or civic science (Cashmore, 2004). Predictions depend on practitioners'experience and expertise, which may lead to professional bias.Developers are responsible for drafting EIS, directly or through ex-ternal consultants. Consequently, EIA consultants work for developers,and this is a good-reported cause of concern about EIS independence;they have con 󿬂 icts of interest that will make them particularly prone toabuse the EIA system (Williams and Dupuy, 2017). The risk of manip-ulation depends on developer's pressure and consultants' profession-ality; to prevent manipulation, the consultants should apply strictethical standards (Mostert, 1996), such as those proposed by the In-ternational Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA, 2009). When thedeveloper and competent authority coincide, consultants may workdirectly for the government; as noted by Richardson (2005), it is dif- 󿬁 cult to de 󿬁 ne the line between fact and bias when working for anauthority that has built-up political momentum behind a particularproject.Although the role of consultants is essential in EIA, the paradigm “ experts know best ”  has been losing credibility (Bond et al., 2004).Robinson and Bond (2003) found signi 󿬁 cant di ff  erences between theviews of consultants and local residents in EIA. Chen (2009) proposes aframework in which scientists are responsible for the analysis of en-vironmental impacts and stakeholders weigh subjectively their relativeimportance. However, this scheme does not consider the risks of sta-keholders' manipulation, and presupposes a level of knowledge on themthat rarely exists; if some stakeholders are not aware of the importanceof an environmental resource they might consider it acceptable if thisresource is a ff  ected.Consultants' credibility does not depend solely on the accuracy of their predictions but also on the acceptability of the project (Kontic,2000); if the experts' opinion is in accord with public interests, thecredibility is high. Rigorous EISs sometimes are questioned in con- 󿬂 icting projects, while poor EIS are accepted if there is no social re- jection; the casuistry on that in Spain is wide. Consequently, socialperceptions of consultants' bias or even manipulation is not necessarilyrelated to their ethics or professionalism. 3.3. Politicians Projects distribute impacts and bene 󿬁 ts, and are a legitimate focusof political debate in a democratic society (Beattie, 1995); selectingalternatives often involves making trade-o ff  s that fail to satisfy one ormore stakeholders (Kiker et al., 2005). Decision-making is a politicalaction that should integrate social, economic and environmental as-pects, and EIA is part of them, so it is highly politicized (Cashmoreet al., 2010) or even political (Beattie, 1995). Decision-making pays greater attention to social,  󿬁 nancial or environmental aspects de-pending on cases, with an unavoidable bias determined by thepoliticians' concept of general interest, but sometimes the criteria arepurely political, for example to obtain votes or improve the govern-ment's image, manipulating the decision process; the key is whether thegeneral interest is really sought or not.Richardson (2005) notes that the information introduced into en-vironmental assessment is conditioned by power when political supportalready exists for a particular project, citing a road where a single al-ternative was selected for political interests, but engineering reasonswere argued (see also Section 2.2). Moon (1998) openly speaks of the political manipulation of EIA in Queensland, noting that the politicaldesire to enhance the success of developmental projects has over-whelmed the stewardship responsibility for environmental manage-ment. Wachs (1990) considers violations of public trust some blatantattempts to manipulate public policy in order to promote certain in-terests at the expense of others. In 2002 an oil tanker shipwrecked onthe Northwest coast of Spain, and the government's action was dis-cussed. As a result, an ambitious regional investment plan was ap-proved, including ports, motorways or railways; the srcin of theseactions was political, and consequently especially prone to manipula-tion during EIA processes.Another manipulation risk occurs when local, regional and nationalgovernments from di ff  erent political parties participate in an EIA pro-cess. Although general interest should prevail, there is a risk of politicalattacks at the expense of the EIA. In Eastern Spain, the State submitted aradioactive waste storage site to EIA; the Regional Government op-posed, trying to include the area in the Natura 2000 Network, but theState blocked this attempt. The boundaries between environmental andpolitical interests are unclear. Political manipulation is usually asso-ciated with government, but opposition parties may also use EIA topolitically attack or to improve their image. 3.4. Competent authority  A competent authority is the government (local, regional or na-tional) department responsible for project authorization, usually incharge of EIA processing (excluding the EIA agency resolution). It hasattributions on the project subject, and is usually more sensitized to thatsubject than to EIA, so bias may be inherent. The step between bias andmanipulation depends on the interests at stake, and political or lobbypressures. If the energy authority wants to promote renewable, it can beopenly favourable to new wind farms, with a positive predisposition inthe EIA before an assessment of e ff  ects on birds or protected areas, forexample.In private projects, the competent authority is an intermediate agentbetween developers and EIA agencies and it is independent (although itis related with the project subject), so bias risk is smaller, but in somepublic investments developer and competent authority may be the sameagent (e.g. transport infrastructure), and has a personal interest in thesuccess of the project. This implies greater bias, and sometimes ma-nipulation due to political interests, for example bureaucratic manip-ulation of EIA processes. 3.5. EIA agencies (evaluators) EIA agencies are public, with politicians as leaders, and thus open topolitical manipulation. The independence of evaluators depends ontheir professionalism and ethics, but also on the criteria for the as-signment of positions; the greater the political in 󿬂 uence in the desig-nation of positions (e.g. trust positions), the less independent theagencies are. There are also non-environmental factors that may in- 󿬂 uence decisions, such as pressure from stakeholders, successive ne-gative resolutions or delays in processes; these criteria may be an ad-ministrative manipulation. The pressure over EIA agencies is greaterwhen developers depend on the same government, with capacity forpolitical pressure, or when they are local governments of the samepolitical party.  Á. Enríquez-de-Salamanca  Environmental Impact Assessment Review 68 (2018) 10–18 13
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