Geography Reference
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for show. The numbers may be right, but they're fundamentally misleading. At our institution, we discourage our
professors from conducting EIAs because it can ruin a scientist's reputation. They're not done very well. In some
cases, whole sections are copied from one EIA and pasted into another. That kind of poor quality damages reputa-
Dr. Wu, the MEP policy analyst, expressed similar concerns. Reflecting on the poor
quality of many EIA documents, he told me that he had recently reviewed an EIA report
for a hydropower project in Yunnan but saw multiple references to Sichuan Province in
the text. He asked a few probing questions of the authors, who sheepishly admitted that
whole sections of text from one report to another. Time constraints, budgetary limitations,
and sometimes outright malfeasance on the part of researchers can undermine the entire
process. Moreover, lack of institutional oversight is rampant at the highest levels of gov-
ernment; in extreme cases, multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects can go from design
to construction before any EIA is done. One recent high-profile example is the Longkaikou
Dam on the Jinsha River in northwest Yunnan, which was initiated by Huaneng Corpora-
tion in 2007 but suspended by the MEP in 2009 after critics pointed out that Huaneng had
not filed an EIA report ( China Daily 2009). The NDRC later allowed the project to contin-
ue after its environmental impacts were revised downward (Hennig et al. 2013), although
it is unclear whether the project design itself was revised.
The MEP requires EIA practitioners to emphasize what the agency calls “three syn-
chronizations” ( san tongshi ) during an EIA process: project managers must show that they
have considered the environmental implications of the design, construction, and operation
of any given project. Given the sporadic enforcement record of the EIA Law, however,
for “eating, drinking, and singing” in restaurants and karaoke bars. Such critiques under-
score the fact that the weak points in the process are not technical in nature but stem from
a lack of legal and political accountability. Several experts suggested that the system was
rife with corruption ( fubai ). Dr. Wu, the MEP policy analyst, noted with a sense of irony,
“The United States and other countries criticize China over human rights, and they point
to minor examples like the case of [the artist and dissident] Ai Weiwei. It's not about in-
dividuals like that; it's a systemic problem. There is no accountability mechanism [ wenze
zhi ].”
prove the EIA process from the inside. In my interview with Dr. Liu, the research center
director, she offered several ideas for improving the EIA process and its associated out-
comes: “I think we should learn from Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the process is public.
EIAs are done by experts who volunteer to do them as a kind of service, and the report is
made publicly available. Here, we don't really believe the government can make the right
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