on plant and animal species, ecosystem services, and human health. The act is precaution-
ary in nature insofar as it encourages government agencies to think about preventing eco-
logical damage rather than mitigating it after the fact.
Information disclosure and public participation are key components of NEPA in at least
three stages of a project: at the time of filing a Notice of Intent, which initiates the project;
during the scoping process to identity the range of potential environmental impacts and
affected stakeholders; and during the comment period on the draft environmental impact
statement. 2 In the decades since the passage of NEPA, more than eighty countries around
the world have implemented EIA laws, which, although distinct in their particular details,
are guided by common principles.
The EIA process in China took a major step forward with the passage of the EIA Law
by the National People's Congress in 2002 and its implementation in 2003 (see Chinese
National People's Congress 2002a). In line with the goal of sustainable development, the
law requires that major construction projects undergo an assessment of their environmental
impacts prior to construction. The institutional level of review—whether by the MEP or by
provincial Environmental Protection Bureaus—depends on the scale of the project in ques-
tion. Furthermore, the specific steps in the review process may vary according to the scale
of the potential impacts of the project: if a project's potential impact is deemed to be “ma-
jor,” a full environmental impact report must be filed; if the potential impact is “light,” an
environmental impact report form is required; if the potential impact is “very small,” only
an environmental impact registration form is required (Stender, Dong, and Zhou 2002).
Although China has had a rudimentary framework for evaluating the environmental im-
pacts of major projects for at least thirty years, the EIA Law now mandates that govern-
ment entities base their decisions to approve or reject projects in part on the EIA report
and to justify their decisions in writing (Tang and Zhan 2008). The law stipulates that EIA
decisions be fair ( gongping ) and scientific ( kexue ) and that the approval process be well
documented. The EIA Law contains thirty-eight articles, a selection of which appears in
The government encourages relevant entities, experts, and the general public to participate in appropriate
ways in the EIA process.
The EIA Law applies to government entities at or above the municipal level, which includes provinces,
autonomous regions, and centrally administered municipalities.