People, Pipelines, and Probabilities: Clarifying Significance and Uncertainty in Environmental Impact Assessments

AbstractDeterminations of significance play a pivotal role in environmental impact assessments because they point decision makers to the predicted effects of an action most deserving of attention and further study. Impact predictions are always subject to uncertainty because they rely on estimates of future consequences. Yet uncertainty is often neglected or treated in a perfunctory manner as part of the characterization, evaluation, and communication of anticipated consequences and their significance. Proposals to construct fossil fuel pipelines in North America provide a highly visible example; casual treatment of how uncertainty affects significance determinations has resulted in poorly informed stakeholders, frustrated industry proponents, and inconsistent choices on the part of public decision makers. Using environmental assessments for recent pipeline proposals as examples, we highlight five ways in which uncertainty is often neglected when determining impact significance and suggest that a mix of known methods, new guidelines, and appropriate oversight could greatly improve current practices.
Source: Risk Analysis - Category: International Medicine & Public Health Authors: Tags: Perspective Source Type: research

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