Projects subject to EIA are often a source of conflict as different groups, proponents and stakeholders’ interests and values differ. Depending on the country or the province, some mechanisms for conflict resolution do exist in an EIA as the Bureau d’Audiences Publiques en Environnement (BAPE) in the province of Quebec or the alternative mediation step in the Canadian EA process where the mediator is in charge of producing the EIA report (2003,Wood, p72). In the USA, mediation in EIA is limited to administrative hearings in the review step and it is more of a law process than a real mediation. However, mechanisms exist for land and natural resources management disputes. Mediation can also be triggered in response to a lawsuit (including cases outside of the EIA context as in community disputes), or requested at the discretion of a responsible authority (RA). As mediation pertains directly to public participation, places lacking public participation in their EIA may as well lack mechanisms for dispute resolution.
According to Fred. A. Curtis (1983, p 18), the objectives of mediation in EIA are the following:
– Ensuring that all parties’ interests are represented
– Achieving an agreement that satisfies all the parties concerned
– Providing open communication between parties for future needs
– Reaching a consensus in a timely manner and at a low cost
– Guarantying that the community at large views the settlement as just and fair
Achieving these objectives in a conflictual context is for sure quite a challenge for which one must be prepared. Although there is a lot of literature on how to measure success in environmental mediation, and despite the fact that the field of mediation has been developing since the 1980’s , the specific skills and practical training needed to become an environmental mediator could use more visibility. Generally, the task of mediating is given to a specialized consultant or to a lawyer to guarantee neutrality, but still as mediation should start as early as possible, the skills required in mediation and facilitation are an asset for EIA practitioners involved with public participation: from participating in an information meeting to assessing socio-economic impacts to proposing mitigation measures and even monitoring.
Moreover, a mediator is also an educator and in the context of climate change for instance, the mediator-facilitator has a mission toward science as Gail Bingham, senior environmental mediator and researcher, says:
How to acquire the necessary skills and practice other than by our own experience? Learning from others’ experience is a start. In Common Ground on Hostile Turf, Stories from an Environmental Mediator (2013) Lucy Moore provides us with her own inspiring experiences in policy, land use and natural resources management mediation. She brings to light three core values – that we often take for granted – but that are essential to the construction of sustainable agreements between opposing parties: listening, respect and openness. These basic skills allow for efficiency, because one may know about environmental science, environmental law, human rights and environmental justice, but knowing how to convey this information to help a group of individuals with different backgrounds reach a consensus can rely on the results of a good mediation process. In her conclusion, the author delivers some guidelines that can be summarized as follow: connecting at a personal level and trust, looking under the map in a holistic approach, and balancing power. The details of a mediated negotiation are confidential, particularly when commercial information is involved, and as a consequence it is difficult to know what exactly prompted or broke an agreement between opposed parties. But Moore’s book gives us a key insight: what happens at the human level in such work sessions matters most and conditions the meaningful participation of all stakeholders. Would the EIA for Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mine project (Labrador) have succeeded in creating an unprecedented accord without trust and understanding between the proponent, the Innu Nation, the Inuit Association, and the federal and provincial jurisdictions?
In addition, the contexts in Moore’s stories illustrate very well the essential elements of meaningful public participation described in Stewart & Sinclair’s article (2007, p166) such as integrity and accountability, inclusiveness and adequate representation, fair and open dialogue, adequate and accessible information, multiple and appropriate methods, fair notice and time.
Mediation and facilitation skills are of upmost importance to encourage more meaningful public participation, promote sustainability, communicate effectively significance of impacts to the public and authorities, and foster corporate social responsibility. Developing and using those skills in EA’s everyday praxis can help “smoothing” the process of EA and make it more efficient.
NB: I comingled the terms mediation and facilitation as both are equally important, and because mediation includes some facilitation. To be clear on what each term actually entails, please consult Lucy Moore’s webpage on the topic, cited in references below.
Fred, A. C. (1983). Integrating environmental mediation in EIA. Impact Assessment, 2(3), 17-25. doi: 10.1080/07349165.1983.9725975
Lucy Moore Associates, (2008) Mediation/ Facilitation-what’s the difference? Retrieved 10/15, 2013, from http://www.lucymoore.com/Pages/MediatorFacilitator.html
Moore, L. (2013). Common ground on hostile turf: Stories from an environmental mediator. Washington, Covelo, London: Island Press.
Stewart.Jennifer M.P., Sinclair. John A. (2007). Meaningful public participation in assessment: Perspectives from Canadian participants, proponents, and government. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 9(2), 161-183.
Wood, C. (2003). CH5 The Canadian EIA system. Environmental impact assessment: A comparative review (Prentice Hall ed., pp. 68-75) Pearson Education.
- Mediators Describe Effective Mediation/Martin Rosenfeld,JD (njmediator.wordpress.com)