Environmental conflicts and deliberative solutions? : A case study of public participation in EIA in Sweden

University dissertation from Örebro : Örebro universitetsbibliotek

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to analyse a case of public involvement in environmental decision-making. The thesis asks what mechanisms can include or exclude the public, in the sense of giving or denying opportunities to express views and to influence the process. The empirical case is an airport development and one specific form of public involvement, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). The case is theorised and contextualised in relation to deliberative democracy, sociology of knowledge, social anthropology, cultural geography, risk and planning research.The case study is presented in four papers. In relation to the EIA process for the planned extension of Örebro-Bofors Airport in Sweden, the following questions are asked: how can the EIA be understood (1) as an open arena for evaluating the three dimensions of sustainable development, (2) as a quasi-legal process; (3) how do local people perceive noise and how did they react to the handling of airport noise in the EIA; and (4) how did local people act within and outside the EIA to influence the process.The research approach used is case study analysis. The case study is based on public records as well as interviews with residents in the vicinity of the airport and active members of the local protest group. The focus of the study is on local people's objectives, responses and actions.The study concludes that the case in question was characterised by exclusion rather than inclusion of the public. The general exclusion mechanisms identified are the ways of thinking and talking about the environment in dominating discourses of sustainable development and risk, as well as institutional constraints because of the dominant role of the developer and administrators. Furthermore, it was shown that local people had more complex views of airport noise than was captured by the standardised used in the EIA. When local people found that the EIA process was not an arena in which they could make their claims heard, they found other, creative ways of acting and of influencing the process.It is argued that a traditional perspective on planning and participation is too narrow to understand public participation in EIA. Environmental conflicts, in this case and others, indicate that citizens wish to participate in discussions of what makes political decisions legitimate and good for all. From the perspective of deliberative democracy, public participation can be understood as a matter of forcing social problems, based in experiences from individual lifeworlds, to be attended to by the political and administrative systems that can deal with them. This is an ongoing process and it is important to recognise public involvement in processes such as EIA's as well as actions outside them.

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