Environmental Management

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 683–695 | Cite as

Practitioner Perspectives on the Role of Science in Environmental Impact Assessment

Regular Article


A large body of literature addresses the role of science in environmental impact assessment (EIA) but less attention has been given to the views of practitioners themselves. In this research a survey of 31 EIA practitioners in Western Australia was undertaken to determine their perceptions of the quality and importance of science in EIA. The survey results are compared with previous theoretical, empirical, and survey studies of the role of science in EIA. Interview questions addressed the role of science in impact prediction, monitoring activities, mitigation and management, and EIA decision-making. It was clear from the interviews that many practitioners are satisfied with the quality of science currently used in EIA, but do not believe that it is given sufficient importance in the process. The quality and importance of science in the predecision stages of EIA was rated higher than in the postdecision stages. While science was perceived to provide the basis for baseline data collection, impact prediction, and mitigation design, it was seen to be less important during decision-making and ongoing project management. Science was seen to be just one input to decision-makers along with other factors such as sociopolitical and economic considerations. While time and budget constraints were seen to limit the scientific integrity of EIA activities, pressure from the public and regulatory authorities increased it. Improving the scientific component of EIA will require consideration of all these factors, not just the technical issues.


Science Environmental impact assessment Professional practice Monitoring Impact prediction Mitigation Decision-making 


  1. Antcliffe, B. L. 1999Environmental impact assessment and monitoring: the role of statistical power analysis.Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal173343Google Scholar
  2. Bache, S., Bailey, J., Evans, N. 1996Interpreting the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA): social impacts and the environment redefined.Environmental and Planning Law Journal13487492Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, J. 1997Environmental impact assessment and management: an under-explored relationship.Environmental Management21317327PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bailey, J., Hobbs, V., Saunders, A. 1992Environmental Auditing: artificial waterway developments in Western Australia.Journal of Environmental Management34113Google Scholar
  5. Beanlands, G. E., Duinker, P. N. 1984An Ecological Framework for EIA.Journal of Environmental Management18267277Google Scholar
  6. Benkendorff, K. 1999The need for more stringent requirements in environmental impact assessment: Shell Cove Marine case study.Pacific Conservation Biology5214223Google Scholar
  7. Bernard, D. P., Hunsaker Jr, D. B., Marmorek, D. R. 1993

    Tools for improving predictive capabilities of environmental impact assessments: structured hypotheses, audits and monitoring.

    Hildebrand, S. G.Cannon, J. B. eds. Environmental analysis: The NEPA experience.Lewis PublishersBoca Raton, Florida547564
    Google Scholar
  8. Bisset, R. 1984Post-development audits to investigate the accuracy of environmental impact predictions.Umweltpolitik4463484Google Scholar
  9. Bisset, R. 1988

    Developments in EIA methods.

    Wathern, P. eds. Environmental impact assessment: theory and practice.Unwin HymanLondon4761
    Google Scholar
  10. Boyd, B. K., Dess, G. G., Rasheed, A. M. A. 1993Divergence between archival and perceptual measures of the environment: causes and consequences.Academy of Management Review18204226Google Scholar
  11. Caldwell, L. K. 1991Analysis—assessment—decision: the anatomy of rational policymaking.Impact Assessment Bulletin98192Google Scholar
  12. Caldwell, L. K., Bartlett, D. E., Parker, D. E., Keys, D. L. 1982A study of ways to improve the scientific content and methodology of environmental impact analysis. Advanced studies in science, technology and public affairsSchool of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana UniversityBloomington, INGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark, B. D. 1994. Introduction to environmental assessment, environmental management and sustainable development. Presented at the 15th International Seminar on Environmental Assessment and Management, CEMP, University of Aberdeen, 26 June–9 July 1994Google Scholar
  14. Clark, B. D., Bisset, R., Tomlinson, P. 1987

    Environmental assessment audits in the United Kingdom: scope, results and lessons for future practice.

    Sadler, B. eds. Audit and evaluation in environmental assessment and management. Canadian and international experience, volume II, supporting studies.Beauregard PressCanada519540
    Google Scholar
  15. Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency. undated. Public review of the commonwealth environmental impact assessment process: initial discussion paper: setting the direction. Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  16. Culhane, P. J., Friesema, H. P., Beecher, J. A. 1987Forecasts and environmental decision-making: the content and predictive accuracy of environmental impact statementsWestview PressBoulder, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  17. Dickerson, W., Montgomery, J. 1993Substantive scientific and technical guidance for NEPA analysis: pitfalls in the real world.The Environmental Professional15711Google Scholar
  18. Duinker, P. N. 1985

    Forecasting environmental impacts: better quantitative and wrong than qualitative and untestable!

    Sadler, B. eds. Proceedings of the conference on follow-up/audit of EIA results.Environment Canada and Banff Centre, School of ManagementBanff, Canada399407
    Google Scholar
  19. Duinker, P. N. 1989Ecological effects monitoring in environmental impact assessment: what can it accomplish?Environmental Management13797805Google Scholar
  20. Duinker, P. N., Baskerville, G. L. 1986A systematic approach to forecasting in environmental impact assessment.Journal of Environmental Management23271290Google Scholar
  21. Ecological Society of Australia Inc. 2002. Ecological factors in environmental impact assessment. Position statement by the Ecological Society of Australia. Available online: http://life.csu.edu.au/esa/esaPSeia.html (last accessed 4 October 2002)Google Scholar
  22. Eddlemon, G. K., Webb, J. W., Hunsaker Jr, D. B., Miller, R. L. 1993

    Actual versus predicted impacts of three ethanol plants on aquatic and terrestrial resources.

    National Association of Environmental Professionals,  eds. NEPA Symposium.NAEP PublicationsWashington, DC272287
    Google Scholar
  23. Environmental Protection Authority.1997Who cares about the environment in 1997? EPA Social Research SeriesEnvironmental Protection Authority (New South Wales)Chatswood, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  24. Environmental Resources Limited.1985Handling uncertainty in EIA, volume 18, handling uncertainty in predictionEnvironmental Resources LimitedLondonGoogle Scholar
  25. Epp, H. T. 1995Application of science to environmental impact assessment in boreal forest management: the Saskatchewan example.Water, Air and Soil Pollution82179188Google Scholar
  26. Eversley, D. 1976

    Some social and economic implications of environmental impact assessment.

    O’Riordan, T.Ley, R. eds. Environmental impact assessment.Saxon HouseWestmead, UK126141
    Google Scholar
  27. Fairweather, P. G. 1989Environmental impact assessment: where is the science in EIA?Search20141145Google Scholar
  28. Freudenburg, W. R. 1989Social scientists’ contributions to environmental management.Journal of Social Issues45133152Google Scholar
  29. Green, R. H. 1979Sampling design and statistical methods for environmental biologistsJohn Wiley & SonsNew York257Google Scholar
  30. Hellstrom, T., Merle, J. 1996Uncertainty and values: the case of environmental impact assessment.Knowledge & Policy97085Google Scholar
  31. Hinkle, D. E., Wiersma, W., Jurs, S. G. 1979Applied statistics for the behavioral sciencesRand McNally College PublishingChicago489Google Scholar
  32. Hyman, E. L., Stiftel, B. 1988Combining facts and values in environmental impact assessment: theories and techniquesWestview PressBoulder, Colorado304Google Scholar
  33. Lemons, J. 1994The use of science in environmental impact assessment.Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences20303315Google Scholar
  34. Lemons, J., Brown, D. 1990The role of science in the decision to site a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA.The Environmentalist10324Google Scholar
  35. Lothian, J. 1994Attitudes of Australians towards the environment: 1975 to 1994.Australian Journal of Environmental Management17899Google Scholar
  36. Malik, M., Bartlett, R. V. 1993Formal guidance for the use of science in EIA: analysis of agency procedures for implementing NEPA.The Environmental Professional153445Google Scholar
  37. Morgan, R. K. 1998Environmental impact assessment: a methodological perspectiveKluwer Academic PublishersDordrecht, The Netherlands307Google Scholar
  38. Morrison-Saunders, A. 1996Environmental impact assessment as a tool for ongoing environmental management.Project Appraisal1195104Google Scholar
  39. Morrison-Saunders, A. 1997The influence of EIA on environmental management in Western AustraliaPhD thesisSchool of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Murdoch UniversityWestern AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  40. Morrison-Saunders, A. 1998. The effect of public pressure during environmental impact assessment on environmental management outcomes. Presented at IAIA’98 sustainability and the role of impact assessment in the global economy. 18th Annual Meeting of the International Association for Impact Assessment, 19–24 April 1998, The Convention Centre, Christchurch, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  41. Morrison-Saunders, A., Bailey, J. 1999Exploring the EIA/environmental management relationship.Environmental Management24281295CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Morrison-Saunders, A., Bailey, J. 2000Transparency in EIA decision-making: recent developments in Western Australia.Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal18260270Google Scholar
  43. Morrison-Saunders, A., Annandale, D., Cappelluti, J. 2001Practitioner perspectives on what influences EIA quality.Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal19321325Google Scholar
  44. Orians, G. H. 1986The place of science in environmental problem solving.Environment28121738–41Google Scholar
  45. Preston, B. J. 1985Monitoring—the neglected aspect of environmental impact assessment.Habitat Australia1367Google Scholar
  46. Robinson, R. M. 1989Environmental impact assessment: the growing importance of science in government decision making.Hydrobiologia188/189137142Google Scholar
  47. Sadler, B. 1996International study of the effectiveness of environmental assessment, final report, environmental assessment in a changing world: evaluating practice to improve performanceMinister of Supply and ServicesCanada248Google Scholar
  48. Shrader-Frechette, K. S. 1985Science policy, ethics, and economic methodology: some problems of technology assessment and environmental-impact analysisD. Reidel PublishingDordrecht, The Netherlands321Google Scholar
  49. Starbuck, W. H., Mezias, J. H. 1996Opening Pandora’s box: studying the accuracy of manager’s perceptions.Journal of Organizational Behaviour1799117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Underwood, A. J. 1991Beyond BACI: experimental designs for detecting human environmental impacts on temporal variations in natural populations.Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research42569587Google Scholar
  51. Wood, C., Bailey, J. 1994Predominance and independence in environmental impact assessment: the Western Australian model.Environmental Impact Assessment Review143759CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of ScienceMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

Personalised recommendations