THE ROLE OF ACADEME IN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT1
Nicomedes D. Briones2
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) has become an established part of the instruction
programs of many higher educational institutions (HEI‟s) that offer degree programs on
environmental science and management The role of the academe in EIA are in terms of
Training ground of EIA workers (EIA degree programs and short-term training
Source of expertise (EIA preparers, members of the EIA review committees, and
members of the multipartite monitoring teams)
Provider of research facilities (laboratory analysis of biophysical samples, GIS,
Venue of research on refinement of assessment methodologies
Ground for continuous discussion of EIA philosophy
Source of information materials (books and journals, training materials, data banks)
Instruction is the primary concern of many HEIs although research is also a high priority.
Several HEI‟s (SCUs and private colleges & universities) offer formal, interdisciplinary
programs on environmental studies. Intuitively, EIA is a staighthforward concept to be
taught to EIA students and training participants to help them make decisions about whether
we can live with the consequences of an action. Non-degree environmental training
programs are usually offered many times a year. Some institutions tend to specialize on
certain environmental and natural management aspects such as forest resource
management, agricultural sciences, coastal and marine resources, technology
development, GIS and remote sensing, teacher training and urban pollution. Many
institutions offer training programs most of whom are on forestry and agriculture. Others
specialize on teacher training and on courses designed for local government officials.
Research activities on environmental and natural resource management are diverse within
and among the institutions. Urban-based institutions usually concentrate on urban-related
environmental problems; the others on agricultural, upland and coastal resources.
With respect to facilities and equipment, some have impressive laboratory equipment where
analysis of samples can be done fast and efficiently.
Paper presented, EIA in the Philippines: Roads Taken, Lessons Learned, February 11, 2005,
World Bank Office, Emerald Avenue, Mandaluyong City.
Professor, School of Environmental Science and Management, UPLB, College, Laguna.
Experiences in Teaching EIA as a Part of Academic Degree Programs
UPLB-SESAM is the first institution to offer EIA as a formal course for its MS Environmental
Studies program (1986). EIA is now also offered in other institutions as a part of their
baccalaureate and graduate degree programs. Two decades of teaching EIA have provided
opportunities to reflect on the worth and practice of the EIA procedure.
In teaching EIA as a regular course, the students are trained on two levels. First, there is
the theory which evolved in the three decades since EIA officially began. This principally
describes the experiences over that time, along with some theory as to what EIA should be
aiming for. Secondly, the students are required to do fieldwork to apply the EIA procedures
that are learned in the classroom. EIA in the academe is the combination of theory and
Academic treatment of EIA tries to cover the following objectives:
1. To bring together the many and varied aspects of EIA
2. To discuss the theories that backstop EIA objectives and principles
3. To establish the context for EIA as undertaken within the Philippines
4. To illustrate the practice of EIA so that the students will be equipped to do actual
Following the outline of SESAM-UPLB‟s EIA course, the coverage of EIA as an academic
exercise includes the following:
The historical background for EIA is initially discussed. This provides the setting for
the discussion of EIA objectives and principles and approaches.
A thorough review of a range of assessments, all of which have much in common
with EIA, and with each other, and which can be explored to improve aspects of
EIA. The students are required to focus on the difficult and thorny subject of
identifying and evaluating impacts by discussing the various methods which have
been developed in an attempt to establish objective evaluations.
Discussions that EIA has worldwide acceptance and there are discussions on EIA
experiences in other countries
The legal and institutional framework of Philippine EIA is fully discussed
The EIA procedural steps are discussed in detail. The content of the EIS is
analyzed. The students are required to analyze an actual EIS based on a
predetermined set of criteria.
All the learning and information are condensed/synthesized and must be put by the
students into field exercise, that is, the students are required to conduct their own
EIA. With the instructor guiding them, the students undertake the procedural steps
from scoping to the preparation of the EIS and presentation of results. This would
take about 6 to 8 weeks of the semester.
EIA has served a catalyst for the vastly increased levels of public participation, so
the students are required to explore the role of community participation in EIA
(social impact assessment).
Throughout the learning period of the students, there is the underlying reminder to
the students that EIA is a process that provides a basis for decision-making. As
such, it is involved in the politics of our society, and to an extent, is a political
process in itself. Consequently, EIA opens up questions of values—the values of
decision-makers, EIA preparers, and the communities. The extent of which values
are involved is compounded by the “inexact” nature of assessing environmental
impacts, making it even easier for claims of bias to be made. However, the students
are always told and retold that EIA provides the opportunity to bring these values
into the open.
The EIA course is developed to equally focus on what needs to be achieved and how to
conduct high-quality, efficient analysis of potential project or action impacts. It provides
practical guidance, discussions, and thought-provoking examples. Direction is given on the
efficient compliance with established legislation, executive orders, regulations and
The course meshes the fundamental, practical requirements of EIA with underlying
principles and theories. The student thus will understand the reasons why certain changes
produced by proposed projects should be included in the assessment. This will expand the
analytic capacity of the student beyond the “cookbook” legal requirement of the EIA
process. Through the use of multidisciplinary teams, the analysis of impacts is a result of
interaction of team members with expertise in many fields of study. Rather than just listing
the types of impacts that need top be investigated in an EIA, the students are required to
explain the essential elements of impact analysis. Students are exposed to examples,
recommendations and guidance that are useful in practical, competent, and time-efficient
conduct of EIA.
In my EIA classes, there is a continuing discussion of EIA‟s bases, role, and future
directions. The theories that support EIA are scrutinized by the students.
This is emphasized in the course by pointing out that EIA practice has “evolved without a
sound conceptual foundation” and that a more coherent theory is required. Building this
theory is not an end unto itself, but is a means to achieve better decision-making and
improved practice. The theory will need to draw on a wide range of concepts.
This may seem to be a substantial requirement for EIA but the students‟ thorough
discussion of theory will provide directions for the refinement of EIA, and comes at an
appropriate juncture in the evolution of EIA. As in other fields of human endeavor, practice
usually precedes the theory, which serves to document the practice, and provide a vehicle
for its critical analysis. From this comes the “directions” (theories and models) for how to
proceed to achieve the best results. EIA theory is following this pattern.
The criticism of EIA has come from both proponents and environmentalists. “EIA is one of
the deceitful cooptions of the concept of ecology and environment. While sanctimoniously
reciting the catechism of „environmentalism‟ it anoints and blesses the „process‟ of
Expanding on this position, the students are challenged to explain that EIA is located only
towards the middle of the spectrum of philosophies which recognize the importance of the
In the academe, there is a continuous questioning of the role of EIA focusing on whether
the community is heavily involved or not. There are still differing expectations for EIA, such
as project proponents seeing it as a mechanism for assisting the approval of proposals,
while many in the community expect that it will protect the environment.
The role of broad-ranging input to environmental assessment is crucial, as EIA is a tool and
occupies a recognized place in the politics of decision-making. It must be remembered that
all assessment procedures are value-laden, so without high level of participation EIA would
run the risk of slipping back to being a tool of the bureaucrats, where technocrats assume
the role of interpreting society‟s values. Also, In this situation the community may feel that
it should first accept the worth of EIA, and secondly, simply leave it to the professionals to
undertake assessments. On both points the community would be selling itself short, as this
situation would indicate an even greater need for community participation in EIA.
Equally important for the training of the students is the procedural operation of EIA which
includes the review of its administration and practice. This provides the students with ideas
on how the EIA tools can be better used although the key issue is whether to continue to
use the tools in the same way, or not use it at all.
What would happen to EIA as an academic requirement?
What does history tell us? Two decades of experience with the operation of EIA in the
academe have provided opportunities to reflect on the worth and practice of the procedure.
The teaching of EIA continues to evolve and is now becoming an accepted part of the
environmental education process.
Perceptions of the future of EIA in the academe are mixed, but generally a continuing role is
predicted. The position of EIA appears more secure than other forms of assessment
because the EIA process benefited from the expansion of environmental interest groups,
particularly those which were legally and scientifically well-resourced.
Experience indicates that political pressures have been the driving force behind EIA. The
challenge for EIA then is obviously political rather than technical. EIA would remain an
essential procedure for the identification of key environmental issues, the formulation of
monitoring programs to check the rate of development of environmental impacts, and for
the identification of related amelioration or remediation measures to take account of the
EIA as a component of environmental education (EE) whose main purpose is to help
mitigate environmental degradation as its goal is a well-informed, motivated and action-
oriented citizenry. However, many HEIs simply do not have adequately trained staff and
the back up resources to pursue a more vigorous EE program.
A major challenge is to ensure that EE programs become self-sustaining. Initial
investments is needed in demonstration and pilot projects, in training core groups of
educators and EE practitioners, in strengthening EE institutions and improving EE delivery
Educational institutions must be able to relate the functional unity of ecosystems so that
environmental problems can be attacked not on an ad-hoc and piecemeal basis.
Investment in EE is a long term. The results will not be evident this year or next year--but in
decades. The trend of deteriorating environmental quality can only point to human misery
and this must be reversed. The academe should continue producing a critical mass of
teachers, environmental specialists and workers. Some strategies that can be pursued by
the academe include the following:
Dissemination of EIA work via the Internet and publications
Continuous teachers training and development of EAI teaching materials
Upgrading facilities and equipment
Consolidation of efforts and sharing or resources (e.g., establishment of core
institutions to lead EIA in the regions or strengthening networking among HEIs,
private sector, government agencies, LGUs & NGOs)
Professionalization of environmental science and management profession
Lastly, the academe should improve the GE curriculum by infusing and/or offering
environmental management for the formal education programs and prepare a
comprehensive set of needs-based targeted instructional resources on environment topics
for use by NGOs and others for the nonformal education programs.