Environmental impact assessment, a comparative review

Environmental impact assessment, a comparative review

Book An interim report on the ESUD project was presented at a United Nations conference in Turkey in 1992. The ESUD led to the development of the Eco...

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An interim report on the ESUD project was presented at a United Nations conference in Turkey in 1992. The ESUD led to the development of the Ecopolis Strategy Framework from which emerged guiding models for chains, areas, and organizations. Ecopolis is based on the compelling concept: City as ecosystem, not just a metaphor, but as a concept for real cities! The organization of the book is generally very clear, but occasionally lapses into an over-structured government report writing style. The book was written in the Netherlands, and although most of the material is about the Netherlands, it is presented in a generic, or conceptual manner rendering it highly transferable, at least to other developed urban environments. The lessons offered in the book would also be well heeded by the developing urban areas of the world, those that still have an opportunity to learn from other peoples problems and mistakes. Ecopolis builds on the works of Anne W. Spim (The Granite Garden, 1984) and Michael Hough (City Form and Natural Process, 1984). These earlier works on urban ecology from the 1980’s presented convincing arguments that ecology was alive and well in cities, with numerous case studies cited mostly from North America and Europe. Ecopolis takes a different tack, in one respect it lays a rigorous theoretical foundation for ecologically sound urban development, then it assumes the challenge of applying the theory in real communities with significant stakeholder involvement. Ecopolis is not primarily concerned with “ecology in the city, but with the ecology of the city”. Ecopolis presents a powerful and clear strategy framework comprised of three main themes: (1) the responsible city - the city must not pass on its problems to higher levels or to future generations; (2) the living city - to integrate the local ecological potential fundamentally with the identity of the city; (3) the participating city - emphasizing involvement of the people in the management of their environment. These main themes are worked out in guiding models for chains, areas and organization, respectively. This abstract system-level thinking is highly developed, clear and well illustrated with diagrams. It contains a simple but elegant “ecodevice model” based on the input and output flows characteristic of all ecosystems, coupled with resistance



and retention as the four basic regulating mechanisms of ecosystems. The conceptual principles, strategies and the site scale examples are well described and illustrated. In the Ecopolis case studies, the themes and guiding models are applied to three distinctly different municipalities with particular issues and concerns. For all of its strength in articulating and illustrating concepts, principles and strategies, Ecopolis is weaker with respect to its handling of specific physical and spatial factors at the urban landscape scale (i.e., neighborhood). When the concepts are illustrated, they are often illustrated with system diagrams, or site photographs. The manner in which these abstract ideas, and specific designed solutions, merge at the scale of the urban landscape is left unaddressed in this book. This is a minor criticism, and perhaps legitimately beyond the scope of the book. In conclusion, this is an important book which builds on earlier work, done with important collaboration and cooperation. Its clarity and polish has benefited from the comments and reviews of many contributors through its evolution. Ecopolis makes an important contribution to the sparse literature of urban ecology. Jack Ahem Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning University of Massachusetts Hills North Box 34010 Amherst MA 01003-4010 USA PII



impact assessment

Environmental impact assessment, a comparative review. Christopher Wood, Longman Scientific and

Technical, Essex, UK, 1995, 337 pp. This book is a very ambitious endeavour by the author because of its interdisciplinary, systematic, and holistic perspective. The preface claims that


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“Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is interdisciplinary and involves large numbers of different practitioners but is most closely associated with the professional concerned with citing new development.” The first chapter summarizes the meaning, the scope, the process, and the effectiveness of environmental impact assessment. This chapter is a synthesis of the significance of EIA described and presented by other writers. In the discussion of the diffusion and evolution of EIA, Christopher Wood traces the history of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 in the United States of America. EIA was envisioned as the tool that was expected to evaluate projects individually as to their impacts on the environment. Many jurisdictions in other countries around the world emulated the United States EIA process but some were cautious about importing NEPA-style litigations to their societies. In this chapter, the author stresses the importance of the interactive steps of the EIA process which have emerged from NEPA. This legacy can be seen in many EIA systems around the world. North America, specifically the United States, has led the world in the determination of how to assess the effectiveness of EIA systems. Many ideas have been put forward to shed light on the effectiveness of EIA, the criteria necessary for assessing the effectiveness of EIA and more importantly the improvement of the EIA process. The author reviews the works of several American scholars who have made significant contributions to the subject of impact assessment. The work of Leonard Ortalano and others set the stage for the succinct argument presented on the effectiveness and evaluation of EIA systems. The second chapter of this book is basically a discussion of the evolution of NEPA provisions. Like most EIA books, there is a lengthy discussion of US federal systems. The author employs maps, charts, and flow diagrams to augment the discussion. This is a synthesis of other people’s work. In the third chapter, attention shifts to the European style of EIA. Wood describes the genesis of the European directive on EIA. In this chapter a reader begins to appreciate the parallels between the United States EIA and the European counterparts. The Euro-

pean directive on EIA allows member states to establish their own requirement in the legislation they deem suitable to their particular situation. Thus, the European directive provides a template to which member states add substantial and significant details to suit their situations. The most important aspects of the initiative is that it specifies “binding” ends which must be achieved. Thus the means of achieving the “ends” is left to the member states. In chapter four, Wood discusses the United Kingdom’s EIA system. The author examines the bipartisan attitude toward EIA in the U.K. Early interest in EIA in the United Kingdom was spurred by oil exploration activities in Scotland where planners were not familiar with how to handle such complex projects. Just as in the United States of America, universities in the U.K. have assisted in developing systematic procedures for planning agencies to assess the environmental, economic, and social impacts of industrial development. Wood gives the reader a brief insight into the U.K. EIA systems by summarizing the regulatory procedures and the implementation process. I must say that the author’s description of the implementation of regulation does not do justice to this well organized book because it is too brief and refers too much to other writers’ works. This seems to be the general pattern throughout the book. Books of this nature tend to rely heavily on other people’s work and as such there is a general weakness in terms of comparing similar variables under different circumstances. Nonetheless in chapter five, the author offers the reader of this volume a brief overview of the EIA systems in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Through the use of flow diagrams, Wood sets out to describe the main procedures and steps in each country. The diagrams also provide an excellent basis for discussing the major organizations responsible for environmental impact assessment in these countries. While the author has done well in providing the reader with a snap shot of EIA procedures in the countries he has chosen, the reader is left to wonder the basis for the selection of these countries. The sixth chapter is the examination of the legal basis of EIA system. Countries such as the U.K.

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found it difficult to accept some of the basic principles of EIA as stated or as advanced in the U.S. systems because the main principles were already covered by the existing legislation in the U.K. Wood does an interesting job of examining the legal basis of EIA systems by attempting to address the questions of: “how far the detailed operations of the EIA process should be prescribed in laws and regulations and how much it should be left to the discretion of the relevant authorities” p. 73. The author then proceeds to discuss the legal basis of the EL4 systems in the US, the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, and New Zealand. Probably the strength of this chapter lies in Table 6.1 which is provided in the summary section. It gives the reader a succinct and vivid comparison of all the countries based on clarity and specificity of the legal provisions. In the seventh chapter, the author addresses the coverage of EIA systems in the United States with emphasis on California, the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The relevance of the range of impacts is examined in each country under consideration. The first couple of pages in this chapter offer a brief explanation of the differences between public and private projects and how the decision making process for impact assessment is approached in Europe and the United States. The author thinks that because the United States and Canada are less densely populated than the European countries, the EIA was developed to fill the gap that a strong planning system should have addressed. In chapter eight, Wood provides a discussion on the issue of “consideration of alternatives in EIA systems.” Alternatives to proposed action gives policy makers an opportunity to examine the possible impacts of other actions. The consideration and examination of alternative actions give the overview of other impacts and thus a chance to make the right decision. The strength of this chapter is that it presents alternative ways of achieving the objectives and goals of development. Wood’s discussions of the consideration of alternatives in EIA systems in European countries are brief and the reader is left to decide what exactly the differences are.


Upon reading the ninth chapter, the reader discovers a clear pattern of how this book has been organized. Chapters nine through twenty deal with the following topics: screening of actions; screening of impacts; EIA report preparation; EIA report review; decision making monitoring and auditing of actions; mitigation of impacts; consultation and participation; monitoring of EIA systems; costs and benefits of EIA systems; strategies in environmental assessment; conclusions. All these chapters make important introductory statements about the specific topics. It appears to this reviewer that the United States EIA systems dominate the discussion in chapters nine through twenty, although the author briefly examines the Canadian and European experiences. This style avails the reader of this volume an opportunity to obtain brief introductory perspectives on the topics of the chapters, and a short and sometimes incomplete country interpretation or regulatory apparatus of the EIA component. In the Appendix, the author provides an eight page discussion of EIA in developing countries. For this reviewer the author has not done a good job of discussing EIA in developing countries. The majority of the world’s population live in the developing world. The struggle with development is quite obvious, given the haphazard development which prevails in the developing countries. In many of these countries, there is massive displacement of people due to large projects such as transportation routes, dam construction and the extraction of renewable and non-renewable natural materials. The major development agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Canadian Agency for International Development (CAID), Japanese Agency for International Development (JAID), donor countries and lending institutions such as the World Bank, have major development projects which are either completed or underway in developing countries. This is a very good reason for more EIA to be conducted in developing countries. Many multinational corporations are engaged in the extraction of raw materials in the developing countries. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) now demand that


Book reviews

major projects that they fund have environmental impact assessment conducted before the projects can be carded out. The influence of non-governmental organizations, both domestic and international, in the process of development, is crucial in developing countries. It is important to require EIA to be part of the planning, construction, operation, and implementation of development projects in national development. The author should have included a few case studies (examples) of developing countries’ EIA processes just as he did for the developed countries in order for a true international perspective to be achieved in this book. By relegating the discussion of EL4 in developing countries to the Appendix, the author exacerbates the marginalization of developing countries’ interest in technical and scholarly books. Overall, this book began in a very strong manner and contains useful information for EIA students. The author has remained focused in conveying the steps of the EIA process in the countries of North America (Canada and the U.S.) and Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to the reader. The summary tables are especially interesting to those who would like “snap-shot” of comparisons. The book is recommended as a text for comparative studies of EIA in developed or “near developed countries.” Valentine Udoh James Urban and Environmental Planning Campbell Hall, School of Architecture Universiq of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 22903 USA PII SO169-2046(96)00347-7

The mill creek The Mill Creek: An Unnatural History of an Urban Stream. Stanley Hedeen, Blue Heron Press,

Cincinnati, OH, 1994, xii + 212 pp. Stanley Hedeen’s book is a welcome addition to an important field of history that has been far too long neglected. Landscape history has much to teach

us about landscapes in general. Such works point out to us that we basically have no accurate memories of what landscapes were like before our use converted them to lands that are in many ways unlike any known before. Hedeen and other landscape historians do the valuable hard work of documenting from widely scattered and often quite obscure sources the stories of how we have altered our lands. All serious students of these problems should add this book to their libraries along with such classics as Elinor Melville’s A Plague of Sheep (Cambridge University Press, 19941, and Stanley Trimble’s The Alcovy River Swamps (Georgia Academy of Science, Bulletin, 1970). Landscape histories are mostly tragic. The Mill Creek, once known as Maketewa to the natives, whose watershed of about 165 square miles tributary to the Ohio river was destined to become part of the urban sprawl of Cincinnati, is one such tragic tale. The impacts of settlement and its accompanying land use changes were swift and startling. The first settlers came to the area in the 1790s or roughly 200 years ago seeking mill sites when the area was virtually continuous forest with much old growth in huge trees. Agricultural settlement quickly followed the mills and land clearing was mostly by girdling and burning the forest, especially at first the bottomland forest closest to the streams. One early consequence of the deforestation was that an increase in standing water led to a chronic level of malaria outbreaks. Of many extraordinary stories in this history, one of the most remarkable is that a local doctor, Daniel Drake, understood the malaria problem, specifically mentioning deforestation in the Mill Creek valley as its cause in the year 1810 long before the true causative agent or its relation to mosquitoes was known. Drake’s plea that the remaining forest should “be considered in the light of a rampart against a perpetual enemy, and preserved in a most sacred manner” was not heard and malaria remained for several more decades very prevalent in the area. Another early change from deforestation was that from as early as 1805, there have been frequent incidents of flood destruction, some of them due to the local watershed changes and others due to Ohio River floods. Not surprisingly many mills, bridges and other structures were swept away soon after