Morrison-Saunders, A. and Bailey, J. (2001) EIA practitioner perceptions on the role of science in impact assessment. In: IAIA '01 Impact Assessment in the Urban Context conference. 21st Annual Meeting of the International Association for Impact Assessment, 27 May - 2 June, Cartagena, Colombia.
The process of environmental impact assessment (EIA) brings together a broad raft of professional practitioners including environmental policy-makers, administrators, decision-makers, government agencies, planners, engineers, scientists, social scientists, and business and project managers as well as the public. From the diversity of these practitioners it can be anticipated that people from different backgrounds will have different expectations of how the process should function in practice. This paper presents the results of a follow-up survey of EIA practitioners in Western Australia. The purpose of the research was to examine the role of science in EIA based upon the experiences and expectations of EIA practitioners. Thirty-one EIA practitioners were interviewed. These were drawn from the Environmental Protection Authority (the peak body responsible for EIA in Western Australia) and its supporting administrative agency the Department of environmental Protection, other government decisionmaking authorities, environmental consultants and project managers and environmental officers. Interviewees were also selected to represent different industry sectors (ie. planning, industrial and resource development projects) as well as urban and remote settings. Interviewees were asked about the role of science in impact prediction, monitoring activities, mitigation and management, and EIA decision-making. The results indicate that practitioners have different expectations of the role of science in EIA according to the type of project and its location (ie. urban or remote) and the stage of the EIA process. Most participants indicated that the role of science currently is greatest during the earlier pre-decision stages of EIA and provide the basis for these activities (ie. baseline monitoring, impact prediction and mitigation design). Science input in the post-decision stages of was generally perceived to be of poorer quality. Science was seen to be less important during decision-making and ongoing project management. It is kept in balance with other factors such as socio-political and economic considerations. Despite these differences, overall, good science was seen to be a hallmark for effective EIA and a greater role for science in EIA was advocated, particularly for follow-up activities.