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courts by claiming that one or more steps was done improperly. In many Western countries,
the enforcement lever that makes the whole system work is litigation, or threat of litigation,
by various constituent groups. Such a threat can have a “trickle-up” effect: it forces agen-
cies, scientists, and policy makers to try to predict the kinds of public concerns that will
be raised and to create management alternatives to address them up front (Kaiser 2006). It
also means that the EIA process, laden with political conflict and controversy, can drag on
for many years or be held hostage by one or more powerful interest groups. 3
In contemporary China, however, the judiciary system plays a much smaller role in
environmental management. Although environmental lawsuits are increasingly more fre-
quent, they are still a challenge for plaintiffs because the courts remain relatively difficult
for most citizens to access, and entities such as NGOs often lack standing to file suit (Stern
2011). As part of my research on water resources and decision making, I have been work-
ing to understand the science and policy of EIA as a field of practice. How do experts in-
volvedinEIAconducttheirworkandevaluate itsefficacy?Duringaninterview,onesenior
environmental scientist named Dr. Liu, a woman who runs a respected research center at
a major university, reflected: “Academics believe that EIA is effective. They apply it and
try to develop new methods; they try to make useful instruments both at a high policy level
and at a local level. They promote it as an effective tool of environmental management.…
Especially after the 2003 EIA Law, environmental impact assessment can be a useful tool.
It can be powerful because if a project doesn't pass the EIA, it will not go forward.”
Many experts share Dr. Liu's sense of optimism about what the law can accomplish. But
the day-to-day reality is mired in a complex set of bureaucratic problems. Unlike in the
West, where environmental reviews are often conducted by a cottage industry of expert
contractors from the public and private sector, in China the government places severe re-
strictions on who can perform EIAs. In 2005, the MEP released a set of guidelines called
Accreditation Methods for Organizations Conducting Environmental Impact Assessments
(Chinese MEP 2005). This ensures that only select, government-sponsored organizations,
al reviews and submit EIA reports. In order to do so, a given organization must possess a
qualification certificate ( zige zhengshu ), which is issued only after a certain number of per-
sonnel have passed an examination administered by the MEP. This is in line with Article
19 of the EIA Law, which requires certification, and may help to ensure the quality of EIA
science, but it also raises the question of independence and the potential for conflicts of
interest. Dr. Liu felt that the accreditation requirements fundamentally undermine the in-
tegrity of the EIA process:
Most of the institutes that do EIAs have extremely close ties to the Environmental Protection Bureaus [which have
the authority to approve projects]. It's not based on objective criteria, but on what the government thinks of them.
The more you look into current EIA processes, the more controversy you'll find. Sometimes the EIA is done just
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