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One Small Step for Chinese Environmental Public Participation? Civil Society Participates for the First Time in Hydropower Project Technical EIA

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

Last month marked the first time representatives from Chinese environmental groups were invited to participate in the environmental impact assessment for a major hydropower project in China, according to the First Financial Daily. Ma Jun, director of the Institute for Public & Environmental Affairs, and Yang Yong, representative for the Green Earth Volunteers, took part in the meeting to conduct technical evaluation on environmental impact assessment for the Ahai Dam on the Jingsha River on December 29-30, 2008 in Beijing.

One expert at the meeting noted that major preliminary work on the dam had begun prior to completion of the environmental impact assessment – a violation of the 2002 Environmental Impact Assessment Law (EIA Law). However, the civil society representatives said that “in terms of procedural fairness, this a major stride towards fulfilling the public participation principles of the EIA Law, a historical improvement.” This may be so, but this public participation is really just compliance with the EIA Law.  And, as currently set forth in the law, public participation happens quite late in the EIA process.  It would be much more beneficial to have public participation at, for example, the scoping stage when the range of potential environmental impacts to be investigated is set.

But the issue of work beginning prior to completion of the EIA is perhaps the most problematic.  Environmentalists are concerned in particular about the dam’s impacts on various local fish species.  Green Earth Volunteers director, Wang Yongchen, noted that much more could have been done to reduce harm to biodiversity and local people if the EIA on the dam had been conducted before work had begun on the project.

She has a point.  With major investment already made before completion of the EIA, issues like siting  of the project and possibly even key aspects of the dam’s design are essentially off-the-table for discussion.  So it’s hard to see how any environmental impacts from these aspects of the project would be mitigated in a cost-effective way.

Link: Jingsha River Ahai Hydropower Station Construction Controversy Still Exists” (Chinese), First Financial Daily (Google translate – English)

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