SPECIAL SECTION: ECOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE IN ASIA
Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 4 | Page : 386-397
Making Governance "Good": The Production of Scale in the Environmental Impact Assessment and Governance of the Salween River
Current affiliation: Department of Geography, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada; Research undertaken at: York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Current affiliation: Department of Geography, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada; Research undertaken at: York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|Date of Web Publication||21-Apr-2015|
| Abstract|| |
Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are generally considered an important component of formal decision-making processes about development, serving to ensure that a project's environmental impacts are considered in decisions about whether and how it will proceed. Scale is an important part of the narrative built into the assessment. Building on a rich literature at the intersection of human geography and political ecology, I focus on the way that scale is remade through the environmental impact assessment process for the Hatgyi hydroelectric dam proposed on the Salween River. Proposed near the stretch of the river that makes up the Thai-Burma border, the scales of governance for this cross-border project challenge assumed definitions of 'local' impacts for 'national' decision-making. By illustrating how scale-making is accomplished through producing and mobilising ecological knowledge, I illustrate how the scale of the local and the nation are at stake in these projects.
Keywords: environmental impact assessment, scale, ecological knowledge, water governance, political ecology, Salween River, Hatgyi dam, Thailand, Burma
|How to cite this article:|
Lamb V. Making Governance "Good": The Production of Scale in the Environmental Impact Assessment and Governance of the Salween River. Conservat Soc 2014;12:386-97
| Introduction|| |
In this article, I argue that understanding how scale is made and mobilised through environmental governance is essential for understanding how environmental governance works and for whom, particularly in the case of the environmental impact assessment (EIA). Building on scholarship about the politics of scale involving dams and water governance in Southeast Asia, and my experiences confronting these questions in research and activism in the region, I consider how scale is remade and is at stake in the EIA process.
To do so, I approach scale-making constructively as a process, in contrast to treatments of scale as an existing, ontological category, in which scales are seen as nicely stacked, hierarchical containers for organising space and formal authority. Geographers and ecologists have critiqued the ways that scale is misunderstood to nicely fit within one another, such as how the local scale is assumed to fit within 'larger' scales of the nation or region. In geography, there is also critique of how maps, for instance, provide evidence of neat and tidy spatial organisation, when the underlying social, ecological, and political processes are not fixed, but dynamic and multifaceted.
In line with these critiques and building on conceptual frameworks for understanding scale in human geography (Smith 1992; Marston 2000; Brenner 2001; Marston and Smith 2001), I consider the construction of scale as a process, and I find that this is a process that is much more complicated and dynamic than a simple choice of presentation for the EIA maps and text. 1 In this article, I explore the ways that scale-making is accomplished, not just by the EIA authors but also in the practices and published texts of a variety of actors participating in the EIA processes of the proposed Hatgyi dam. I draw on research conducted over one year at the Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border, near the proposed location of this dam on the Salween River. 2
In taking this approach to scale, and to better understand the 'untidiness' of scale-making in the EIA process, I diverge from the notion that the EIA is simply a tool for better governance, where 'local' impacts and 'national' benefits are assessed based on scales of analysis that present themselves as 'matters of fact' for governments, developers, and consultants. Instead, I consider the ways in which the EIA as ecological knowledge delimits and then mobilises particular scales-in this case, the local and national scale-through governance processes.
I intend for this examination to contribute to expanding political ecology's relatively limited discussion of the construction of scale, and to foster critical academic discussion of EIAs as a significant ecological knowledge system that is worthy of our attention. Moreover, while we can expect scale-making to figure in the work and circulation of EIAs everywhere, the politics of scale are potentially more fraught in spaces or ecologies 'on the edge'-in the frontiers, transborder zones, and ethnic enclaves, identified in the introduction to this special section.
To present my arguments, this article proceeds as follows: first, I describe more clearly the conceptual approach I have taken to understand scale-making. Second, I provide a brief overview of EIAs, followed by details of my research site and methods. Then, I present evidence and analysis of scale-making in different parts of the EIA process, including the EIA text and the presentations that occurred at public information hearings held in towns and villages in Thailand, close to the dam site. To conclude, I synthesise the multiple (and sometimes 'messy') knowledges and voices presented through the EIA process to think about the ways that scale is constructed, and about who and what is included (and excluded) at 'local' and 'national' scales.
| Scale and Water Governance: Conceptual Approaches From Human Geography And Political Ecology|| |
Defining scale is about defining or imagining who or what is included in a study or analysis. It is focused on defining boundaries, categories, or hierarchies that include and exclude, as occurs for instance in the definition of a spatial size and extent of an EIA. Precisely defining what scale 'is', however, has garnered much debate in ecology (Sayre 2005; Sayre 2008) and human geography (Smith 1992; Marston 2000; Brenner 2001; Marston and Smith 2001). My approach to scale-making considers how scale is produced through social and ecological processes and activities. To approach scale as produced or "constructed" (Smith 1992) means that scales do not exist as "stages" upon which social and ecological processes play out, connect to, or cross over; they are not categories through which analysis is developed. Instead, scales are the contingent, contested, and incomplete spatial and temporal outcomes of those processes and activities, and they are both influenced by, and affect, the way socio-ecological processes unfold. This focus on scale as made through process, in turn, highlights the roles of multiple actors and the processes of transforming and creating scale that go unnoticed when scale is positioned as a basic 'choice' that is made.
In his examination of the politics of scale in EIAs, Lebel argues that multiple actors, including those conducting EIAs, "should always be challenged to justify their scale positions and the scale choices made in assessments" (2006: 52). I take Lebel's comment alongside debates on the politics of scale in political ecology (Swyngedouw 1997; Swyngedouw 1999; Swyngedouw 2007; Sneddon 2002; Swyngedouw 2003; Brown and Purcell 2005; Molle 2007; Molle 2009; Norman and Bakker 2009; Budds and Hinojosa 2012; Norman et al. 2012)-debates that engage conceptual approaches to scale as a foundation for thinking about scale and the EIA. 3 Until now, work that considers scale and the EIA (for instance, João 2002; see also: Environmental Impact Assessment section below) instead positions scale as a 'choice' to be made and, as such, suggests remedies for improvement of the EIA process, such as multi-scale analysis. This presentation of scale understands scale as an existing, analytical frame suggesting that scale is created outside the EIA study and process.
My argument that scale is actually constructed through the processes of environmental governance is seen in the EIA processes of Hatgyi dam. Through this case, I highlight how the national and the local as spatial or geographical scales are not chosen, but are transformed and remade (in that they maintain or exclude different characteristics) within the EIA process. 4 I also consider how these scales are recirculated to shape or confirm broader political questions through the EIA process.
In this approach, I take into consideration Glassman's (2001; see also: Swyngedouw 1997: 155) analysis of how activists in Southeast Asia have applied pressure to the nation-state through up-scaling efforts from the local scale-a strategy known as "jumping scale"-in order to gain attention and redress for their concerns. I take scale-jumping as a relevant frame for understanding how scale is mobilised. However, I consider scale to be made and remade through process, and this means that there is not simply a national scale to jump to or to be 'chosen' as an existing frame or platform for analysis or mobilisation. Instead, scale must be actively defined, delimited, and populated with goals and concerns that bear upon, in this case, the considerations of the EIA, or that may expand its field of vision.
In particular, I consider the implications of scale in and for decision-making. The production of scale is implicated in how residents are defined as part of, or disconnected from, decision-making processes, and more generally, in how environmental problems are framed through ecological knowledge (Forsyth 2003). Here, I draw on work in political ecology which emphasises local actors in their connections to decision-making, as well as the unevenness and power relationships evident in water governance processes.
While political ecology has been critiqued for its limited engagement with scale (Brown and Purcell 2005; Neumann 2009; Budds and Hinojosa 2012), several key contributions to thinking about the politics of scale have emerged in scholarship on dam development and water resources in Southeast Asia (Bakker 1999; Sneddon 2002; Sneddon 2003; Hirsch and Wyatt 2004; Lebel et al. 2005; Sneddon and Fox 2006; Lebel 2006; Cash et al. 2006; Molle 2007; Molle 2009). This work has considered the manner in which assumed 'natural' scales are used as part of decision-making processes. For instance, many identify the river basin as a scale of analysis, planning, and strategy that is employed, wilfully or incidentally, to silence or discount some voices or positions while privileging others (Sneddon 2002; Sneddon 2003; Sneddon and Fox 2006; Molle 2007; Molle 2009; Sneddon and Fox 2011). The scale of the river basin, more than an administrative artefact, is an active scale of analysis used by different actors to make claims over river and land resources. In a similar spirit, examination of the Hatgyi EIA process adds to this work by revealing that other scales-the local, the national-are similarly deployed and redefined to make claims and shape the outcomes of knowledge making and resource management.
In addition to work on decision-making and scale, I also build on work that has pointed to how scale is strategically made or performed in the processes of making scientific knowledge (Harris and Alatout 2010; Sneddon and Fox 2011). Although not specifically focused on EIAs, this work similarly illustrates how scale is an important part of scientific knowledge production, but the technical presentation hides or obfuscates these dimensions or political implications of such work. Bringing these conceptual approaches to bear on the Hatgyi EIA case builds on, and adds to, the burgeoning conceptualisation of scale in political ecology (Brown and Purcell 2005; Neumann 2009).
| The Environmental Impact Assessment|| |
"Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority."
-Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development agreed at the 1992 United Nations Conference and Environment and Development, from Donnelly et al. 1998: 7.
The EIA is a kind of ecological knowledge 5 that at its core aims to represent the environment to the state through formalised procedures as part of 'good' environmental governance. The EIA plays a privileged role in formalised decision-making, and despite calls and efforts to increase public participation in its proceedings remains an expert-led document and process both in Thailand and around the world. This dilemma was evident in my research about the decision-making processes of the Hatgyi dam proposed on the Salween River. As I detail below, alternative knowledges were discounted throughout the EIA process. This discounting frequently took the form of a dynamic and flexible approach to making and remaking scales, in which alternative information was scaled out of the questions being considered by the proceedings. By paying particular attention to the EIA, I draw attention to how EIAs and not local residents became the 'voice' for assessing environmental impacts, and the questions this poses for what environmental governance accomplishes. In doing so, I mean to highlight the privileged role EIAs play in environmental governance, and the ways that the EIA is critical to remaking scale not only within its own process, but also in broader political debates about environment, authority, and development.
While political ecology has received critique for its limited focus on scale, political ecology's discussion of EIAs has been even more limited. 6 This gap is surprising considering that EIAs have been mandated through national legislation in over 100 countries worldwide (Donnelly et al. 1998) and now represent a dominant template through which formal decision-making about the environment occurs. 7
In Thailand, the EIA is the study of the environment that is directly incorporated into the state's formal decision-making processes by national law. It is less clear how the EIA is used in Burma, as this was one of the first EIAs conducted in Burma (BEWG 2011) and there has not yet been an EIA policy enacted. 8 In many jurisdictions, the EIA also involves a public participation process, taking the form of public hearings, discussion forums or, at minimum, information sessions. In my experience in North America and Asia, the EIA frequently comes to define the development debate, not only framing discussions in stakeholder forums and parliaments, but also having a substantial effect on how and towards what ends citizen mobilisation occurs. This underlines the significance of the EIA within environmental decision-making and in environmental conservation more generally.
Yet, up to the present, many academic critiques of EIAs have centred on evaluations of their accuracy or on comparative studies of the laws and practices that have been implemented in various jurisdictions. 9 Journals such as Environmental Impact Assessment Review, the Journal of Environmental Assessment, and Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal have represented the main fora for such studies. 10 The bulk of these works focus on how to make the EIA more effective, and they share the notion that the problems encountered with the EIA procedure can be remedied by more accurate study, including multi-scale analysis (João 2002: 306; see also: Wilbanks 2006: 33).
However, a series of more recent articles in the aforementioned journals argued that while the EIA is portrayed as "objective," it is inherently a "political" tool (Richardson 2005; Cashmore et al. 2008; O'Faircheallaigh 2009; Elling 2009; Cashmore et al. 2010). There have also been calls to understand "how decision-making actually works" (Bond and Pope 2012: 2) in recognition that the notion that better information leads to better decisions is a poor representation of links between the EIA and decision outcomes. I position this study of the EIA as a contribution to the identified need for more informed study and understanding about the links between decision-making and the EIA, but with particular regard to the ways that scale is constructed and mobilised by multiple parties in ways that fit their desired project outcomes.
Indeed, one of the issues raised throughout my research was that so many questions about the EIA remain open for discussion. Some activists and scholars conclude that the EIA process is merely a formality, without any 'real' authority to influence decision-making (for instance, see KEAG 2007; International Rivers 2007; Nadeem and Hameed 2008; Nogrady 2013; Yilmaz 2013). Others, while admitting to its problems, see the EIA process as an opportunity for engagement and advocacy (Richardson et al. 1993), including the productive potential to disrupt. The spirit of this disagreement, and the questions that it poses about EIA outcomes, inspires the analysis presented here.
| Research Site and Methods|| |
The Hatgyi hydroelectric dam project is one of the 16 projects currently proposed on the Salween River, which flows through China, Burma, and Thailand. The dam has been proposed immediately downstream of the stretch of the Salween that doubles as the Thai-Burma border ([Figure 1]). There are additional projects, such as the Weigyi and Dagwin dams, proposed on the exact stretch of the river that comprises the border, but the Hatgyi dam is the first of the proposed border projects to reach the stage of an EIA. Investors for the project include the international arm of the Thai Electricity Generating Authority (EGAT), China's Sinohydro Company, the Burmese Ministry of Hydropower, and IGE, a Burmese company. The project is a proposed 1,360 MW, and 90% of the electricity would be sold to Thailand.
|Figure 1: Location of Hatgyi dam and study area along the Thai-Burma border|
Click here to view
As represented in the accompanying map ([Figure 1]), the barrage would be located not in Thailand, but just over the border in Karen State, Burma. Questions about past and future human displacement represent a site of contestation within the decision-making processes on Hatgyi. In addition to planned relocation of settlements in Burma directly adjacent to the dam site, if built the project is expected by Salween residents, NGOs, and Thailand's National Human Rights Commission to displace 11 villages in Thailand that are located along the river, a short distance upstream from the dam site. In addition, the histories and age of these settlements have become a new subject of analysis as the project's original EIA has been reconsidered and expanded. This is one of the reasons the EIA's definition of 'local' scale has become so important to its process and conclusions.
I conducted research along the Salween River-border and at other locations within Thailand over 12 months in 2010-2011. Research was conducted in English, Thai and Karen languages, with the help of a Karen-speaking research assistant. Over 100 informal and semi-structured interviews were conducted with local residents, activists, government officials, EGAT staff, and scientists. All the participants in this research had been mobilised to work, in one way or another, on issues related to the development planning processes for the Hatgyi dam. The analysis and discussion are also informed by participant observation at a series of public information hearings about Hatgyi, organised by a Thai government-appointed subcommittee. 12 The hearings were intended to distribute and discuss information about the project. The EIA was the principal reference and touchstone for this public information and engagement effort.
I also reviewed documents emerging from several distinct projects that aimed to document ways of knowing the environment in addition to the EIA study (ERI 2008). These included the project's feasibility study, and the NGO-published Salween Study (Chantavong and Longcharoen 2007). 13 To analyse interviews, texts, and field observations, I used both descriptive and thematic coding (Cope 2005). Data was organised and analysed using the NVivo qualitative software programme.
The next sections of this article present significant portions of the EIA process in order to demonstrate my arguments about how the local and national scale have been remade. I consider several different parts of the same process-including the Hatgyi EIA document, the Hatgyi public information hearing, the Salween Study, and a revised Terms of Reference for the Hatgyi EIA.
| The Environmental Impact Assessment and The (Contested) Production of Scale|| |
The spatial scale of the impacts of the proposed Hatgyi dam has been a subject of significant debate. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand study on the Hatgyi project (2009) reported that cross-border impacts are expected. Experiences with transboundary dam projects elsewhere in Southeast Asia have also indicated that cross-border impacts should be expected (Hirsch and Wyatt 2004; Daming et al. 2006; Sneddon and Fox 2006; Wyatt and Baird 2007). In contrast to these assessments, the Hatgyi EIA document (ERI 2008) and the accompanying summary distributed to residents along the Salween (Hatgyi Subcommittee December 2010) specify that Thai authorities will do all that they can to contain the impacts from this project to a 'local' scale within Burma. 14 Two components of the EIA provide particularly clear illustrations of the way that this local scale was defined. A map titled "Locations of villages surveyed" was included in the chapter presenting mitigation measures for the proposed dam's impacts on fisheries (ERI 2008). This map shows the Salween River in Burma, downstream of the portion of the Salween River that comprises the Thai-Burma border. No villages, provinces or other administrative divisions of Thailand are shown or indicated on this map. A later chapter, titled "Public Consultation," reports on 'local consultations' held with 'local people' in 2006-2007. This represents another part of the EIA process that was mounted exclusively within Burma. By mapping and describing impacts and consultations only within Burma, these sections of the document accomplish the task of overriding hydrological common sense and the human ecologies of the river in order to localise dam impacts within Burma.
It is important that this local scale is not just any 'local'; it makes use of the political border and it excludes Thailand, which represents both the commissioner (through the state electrical authority EGAT) of the report as well as its primary audience. But more than just attempting to bound the zone of impact to keep it outside of Thailand, the strategies pursued by the EIA served to define and create a 'local' as a spatially bounded scale that can then be reinforced through the planning and construction of the dam. Prior to the EIA, the political border had not been seen as a hydrological and ecological division that would, for instance, keep fish, people, or the impacts of development to one side. In other words, this is an instance of scale-making whereby the contours of the local are inscribed by the EIA. More than simply 'choosing' the local scale, the EIA represents part of a re-articulation of people and ecologies to produce a particularly meaningful and useful spatially-defined local scale.
Even after this vision of the project's scale appeared in the EIA, its real power arose from its uptake and reconsideration by Hatgyi's developers and by the Thai government subcommittee on Hatgyi. This is evidenced in the public information hearing that I detail below. The redefinition of the 'local' scale of impacts implied that concerns of residents living along the Salween in Thailand would be discounted because they are not located within the EIA's new 'local' scale and are thus owed less of a stake in decision-making.
While controversy over this bounding of a local scale of impacts drove interest and participation in the public hearings conducted by the Thai government's Hatgyi subcommittee, it also helped to turn the debate towards technological mitigation measures, rather than the advisability of the project itself. A concretely delimited local zone of impacts is a crucial step in disarming larger questions about the 'indirect' impacts of dam development. These larger questions, for instance the need for dam-displaced people to re-skill in order to carry out different livelihood activities, or the way that such displacements facilitate privatisation of local resources (Vandergeest et al. 2006), have been disregarded within the post-EIA discussion.
Fish scales: fish ladders and the mitigation of impacts
The Hatgyi EIA makes claims that impacts are confined to a local scale that does not include Thailand's portion of the Salween River, upstream of the dam site. Since Salween fish cross borders and represent a regionally significant resource (Wong et al. 2007), the EIA's study and recommended mitigation of fisheries impacts are crucial for the EIA's efforts to convincingly scale impacts to the local area of the project. In order to map the local impacts to exclude Thailand, fisheries impacts must somehow be engineered to a single side of the border.
Chapter 5 of the Hatgyi EIA (2008) discusses fisheries livelihoods, and proposes to solve potential fisheries impacts through the use of a fish ladder or fish elevator. The fish ladder is a mitigation technology aimed at facilitating specific species of fish to swim or navigate across a dam and back down (upstream and downstream). This is necessary for migration, spawning, and preventing species loss. There are also mechanised versions called fish elevators.
A fish ladder at Hatgyi probably will not work. While the fish ladder has been deemed by some to work successfully for salmon fisheries in western USA and Canada, in several cases in the Mekong region it has proven ineffective as a mitigation measure for the fisheries impacts of large dams (Bernacsek 2000; Roberts 2001; Baran et al. 2001; Thorncraft et al. 2006; Baran et al. 2007; Baird 2011). However, the fish ladder's importance to the process does not only rest on its foreseeable effectiveness. Instead, I argue that the key to rationalising the promotion of the fish ladder as a preferred mitigation measure is in the ways that this engineering device serves to scale and apportion impacts and benefits. By providing a vision and promise that fish will be able to continue to swim upstream and downstream from the dam, and in this case across the border, the fish ladder facilitates the definition or containment of 'the local' to one side of the border. Again, in this case it is not just 'any' local scale that is made but one that excludes people and ecologies within Thailand. Even an ineffective fish ladder still manages to discursively contain and scale the dam's impacts on fisheries 'locally' within Burma by supporting claims to mitigate fisheries impacts on other parts of the river.
In this way, the EIA study and process have effectively defined the local scale in relationship to particular people and ecologies, while discounting others. The way that scaling is accomplished through the EIA's fish ladder is particularly important in terms of what it would mean to Salween residents on the Thai side whose families or livelihoods would be displaced if, as expected, the fish ladder does not actually allow fish to move in sustainable numbers across the dam. This is particularly significant considering that these same residents could be excluded from decision-making, impact mitigation activities and political attention precisely because the EIA (with help of the fish ladder) claims that they will not be directly impacted. I return to this point about who is included and excluded when I discuss the project's new terms of reference.
Limiting discussion of the impacts of a large dam on a transboundary river to just a small area around the project site would appear even to the casual observer to be plainly counter-intuitive. This is particularly true when fish migrations occur along the river and its tributaries, including the nearby Moei River. That project impacts were scaled to exclude fish migrations that transit that portion of the river shared by Thailand, was one example that has spurred ecologists and activists to push for assessments at different scales, such as the scale of the basin. 15 Indeed, information that would contradict these claims about the scale of 'local' impacts and fish migrations had already been documented in the Salween Study that I discuss next. That knowledge-production effort produced and circulated an alternative construction of the scale of the Hatgyi project impacts, and was important in securing an extension of the EIA process to additional public consultation and consideration of impacts within Thailand. At the same time, the Salween Study also reveals the important role played by national narratives in grassroots efforts to redefine and challenge scale in development projects.
Alternative constructions of scale: the NGO-led Salween Study
The Salween Study (Chantavong and Longcharoen 2007, full title of book in English: Salween: Source of life and livelihoods) was an NGO-led collaboration between fishers and farmers at the Salween River (mostly in Thailand), and academics. Even as the Salween Study took place largely outside the formal EIA process, information presented in the study on fish species, fishing gear, and fish migrations came to be referenced, if quite selectively, in the official EIA document. I present the Salween Study as part of the Hatgyi case study in order to highlight how the different spatial scales mobilised in an EIA process are contested and transformed through engagement by so-called 'local' knowledge projects which have come to be increasingly adopted by communities and activists throughout Southeast Asia. The Salween Study also illustrates what is at stake in remaking scale: not only does scale determine who can decide the future of development projects, but also who is authorised to define and make claims about the local and the nation, particularly with regard to who and what are narratively included or excluded in each.
Many of the residents who would be impacted by the project in Thailand and Burma identify as members of the Karen ethnic group or as Thai-Karen, and many have taken part in a series of initiatives that have aimed to record, systematise, and textualise what they know about local ecologies and histories. These knowledge initiatives were different from the EIA in a number of ways, even though they were both concerned with the ecological aspects of the river and the impacts of the proposed dam development. For instance, in their participatory approaches to recording and determining the importance of information and considering what knowledge would be published and disseminated to the broader public, contrasted with the top-down work of the EIA.
The approach of the Salween Study was based on the premise that local residents are significant knowledge holders and are well-positioned researchers as a result of their lived relationships with local ecologies and histories. In order to best communicate this knowledge to decision-makers and to broader Thai or international audiences, proponents of this form of study have emphasised that it should be supplemented (but not led) by expert research. In the Salween Study's research process, local residents collected data through daily practice on issues that they defined through meetings with NGO staff, who largely acted as facilitators. This was complimented by research conducted by academic experts, such as ornithologists, who were also brought to the village to record data on species and to interact with, and learn from, local residents.
The village histories documented through the Salween Study illustrate how scale is re-created by independent parties in ways that both fit with, and challenge, the EIA. Each village history was elaborated with maps and photographs, and positioned the villages along Thailand's portion of the Salween River as being resident within the state's borders for generations. One village history includes an important photograph from February 1973 (Chantavong and Longcharoen 2007: 102), marking the day that His Majesty the King of Thailand came to the village and participated in planting trees. The King's presence there at this time firmly establishes the village as part of Thailand, and situates the villagers as both the subjects and the responsibility of the Thai crown. It also runs in contrast to claims that the Karen villages were recently established by people from Burma, which is the popular understanding of the Karen's presence in Thailand. The King's involvement in planting trees throughout the country has been understood to have helped produce the modern Thai nation-state, part of the process of bringing the 'state into the village' (see also: Hirsch 1989). This connection of national authority to modern forest practices such as tree planting is not coincidental, but is part of a broader history in which the Thai state has been extremely active in natural resource management, particularly forestry (Vandergeest and Peluso 1995; see also: Sowerwine 2004). This is a significant narrative for the Salween Study to put forward because it also runs up against discourses that place responsibility and blame on people who are ethnically not Thai (such as the Karen or the Hmong) for forest and natural resource destruction (Lohmann 1999; Walker 2003; Vandergeest 2003; Forsyth and Walker 2008). These village histories were accompanied by other NGO efforts (including participatory mapping of villages along the river) to mobilise ecological knowledge that would advance villager claims to resource access and belonging within the Thai nation.
In addition to the village histories documented by local residents, the Salween Study also included an archaeological study by Thai experts. This archaeological study argued that the Salween River area represents an important site for understanding Thai history, and was produced in collaboration with local residents who worked as researchers side by side with archaeologists. Together, they inventoried findings, including artefacts such as vases and tools, that date to the sixteenth to seventeenth century if not earlier. Local residents, with the support of interested archaeology students, also put together their own museum in the village to show and explain some of the artefacts and other findings. In the archaeological study, the authors argued that if the Hatgyi project proceeds, this heritage would be lost, and left open the circumstantial links between the current settlements and their historical precedents in the river area.
The archaeological evidence and arguments introduced in the Salween Study make claims of a spatial nature that are similar to those frequently employed to shape other facets of national debates within Thailand. In placing the area as an important site in Thai national history, the study makes the argument that its buried heritage, and thus its ecologies and residents, must remain unfettered if they are to serve as important resources to the legitimacy of the Thai nation-state. This argument is more than a political trope. Duplicated across a number of disciplines and areas of concern, it represents an intentional effort by villagers, experts, and activists to rescale the discursive space of the Hatgyi project's impacts to differently imagined scales. While even the EIA admits that Salween residents' livelihoods are linked to the river, the Salween Study places those residents and their livelihoods in Thailand and as important participants in Thai history. Similar to the EIA's constructions of scale, the Salween Study not only redefined what and who resides within the bounds of the scale of the local impacts, but also reimagined the nation, clearly placing the Karen that reside at the Salween within the bounds of the Thai nation.
Both the EIA and Salween Study remake spatial scales to reveal and arrive at significantly different messages and ramifications for the project's ecological impacts. Perhaps more interestingly, they also use these scales to apportion and describe both the local and the national interest in project decision-making. These alternative imaginings of the scale of the nation and the local are presented here to show that multiple actors, including residents and activists, participate in processes that remake scale. However, that the alternative study was largely discounted within subsequent documents and discussions, reveals how the EIA is so successful in setting and sustaining durable scales to authorise and constrain analysis and decision-making. The influence of the EIA is revealed in detail in the public information hearings that I discuss next.
Public information hearings: scaling processes at work
The Hatgyi public information hearing process 16 highlights how the EIA's official construction of the scale of impacts and benefits for the proposed project was mobilised and circulated outside the printed document. The hearings also raised interesting questions about who or what was included in this EIA's definition of the nation.
Organised by the Thai government's Hatgyi subcommittee, 17 the public information hearings relied almost entirely on the information and portrayals of impacts contained within the EIA. Prior to the hearings, the EIA was summarised as a short booklet (Hatgyi Subcommittee December 2010) and distributed to residents in northwest Thailand. Stacks of these booklets were available at Thai border posts along the river. The series of three hearings were principally attended by local residents from villages along the Salween River, as well as by government officials, locally and centrally-based activists, public relations officials for the Prime Minister's Office, Thai soldiers, a team from EGAT, locally and centrally-based activists, my Research Assistant, and me.
During the February 2011 hearing, a senior EGAT staffer presented a graphic-similar to an animated map-that indicated inundation from the dam would stop at the border. The graphic showed the Salween River in Burma up to the political border with Thailand, similar to the EIA's aforementioned map of surveyed villages. The graphic first illustrated the current water levels without the dam in blue. Second, in green, it illustrated the water levels anticipated if Hatgyi would be built, through a visual representation of the EIA that claims that the inundation would stop at the border. This presentation relied on the same carefully limited 'local' scale of impacts, as discussed earlier with regard to the EIA's own mapping and its proposed fish ladder. The EGAT representative explicitly reinforced the connection with the EIA. He explained that the team 'knows' the water levels will not cause flooding or inundation of Thai soil as a result of a scientific study conducted by the lead environmental consultant for the EIA. Based on his experience with the EIA study in Burma, the senior staffer repeated that the so-called stakeholders in attendance "should not worry about inundation [nam tuem] or the border" (hearing transcript February 2011).
During the hearings, at the same time that the dam's impacts were reiterated to be confined to a local scale contained within Burmese territory, the dam's benefits were reciprocally defined as national goods for Thailand. One instance of this portrayal occurred when the lead consultant for the EIA was emphasising that despite this bounding of project impacts within Burma, it was still Thailand's responsibility to assert good environmental governance for the project. He explained that the project was for the "good of the nation", emphasising that its benefits would accrue to the Thai nation, mostly based on what would be done with the electricity produced by the project.
Once again, scale is not simply 'chosen' in this instance, but is part of the same process in which scale is made to exclude particular peoples and ecologies. Explication of this process also highlights how the local and national scale, as constructed in the EIA, are mobilised together to produce effects. It is important for the success of the Hatgyi project that the impacts are localised to Burma and that the benefits accrue to the Thai nation. The absence of impacts on the Thai side of the border helps to facilitate a project that might otherwise face delays, postponement or cancellation, while the national goods that will accrue from it are used to justify EGAT's adventure within Burma as well as the agency's efforts to sell the project to communities within Thailand. 18
The discursive shift to 'national benefits' also has implications for (and I would argue works to redefine) the spatial and jurisdictional scale of the nation. In addition to arguing in favour of the project moving forward, the presentations at the public information hearing revealed the positioning of Thai authority and expertise over the Salween River. This was evidenced as the consultant, a Thai academic, suggested that if Thailand were to pull out of the project, the result would be "death exactly" for residents and fish. He explained that if China and Burma were left to build the dam without Thailand's investment, he was afraid that the water would flood Thai residents without proper study or notification, and without a fish ladder. Again, the EIA's engineered mitigation measures served to offer the promise that, with Thai national expertise, dam impacts to the Salween would be kept within Burma. National superiority backed up the EIA's optimistic definition of 'local', while Burmese authority and agency was not acknowledged during these presentations (see also, Harris and Alatout 2010: 150).
Transforming scale: how does a 'potentially displaced resident' become an 'illegal' migrant worker?
In August 2011, a new proposal emerged from the deliberations of the Hatgyi subcommittee: the Terms of Reference (ToR) for additional EIA study. This proposal, while superficially a response to new evidence raised during the public information hearings and in the Salween Study, may serve instead to further silence some of the very stakeholders responsible for precipitating this extension of the EIA.
As presented, the new ToR suggested that the Thai government (through the Hatgyi subcommittee) would clarify through additional study the impacts to the river-border, and mandated a review of anticipated impacts to Thailand. This new mandate implies a potential to remake the local scale yet again-this time what is considered 'local' may include Thai sections of the river-border. However, the physical expansion of the project's local scale is accompanied in this ToR by an intensification of mandates that may police and restrict the legitimacy of the local voices considered by the study.
The ToR's section on "human rights" includes mandates to prepare a study of "the context of arrival [how the local population came to this place] such as through war or as illegal migrant workers"; "the study of the language [that local populations] use"; and "the study of public health, general health and diseases" (Hatgyi Subcommittee 2011). Those Salween residents who argued to the subcommittee that they will be impacted by the dam now find themselves framed as the objects of a study to determine if they are really Thai.
If this does not appear significant enough in questioning the legitimate position of local residents in Thailand, then consider that this new study is described as important to the EIA because "in the area there are many people from Burma that fled as refugees from war and/or who came here illegally" (Hatgyi Subcommittee 2011). This shift is significant since in previous iterations of the subcommittee's review process residents of the study area were consistently referred to as the "public" or villagers. People in the border region who had been treated within the Hatgyi process as legitimate stakeholders, fisher folk, or invited forum participants, are repositioned under the new ToR. The new mandate implies, and seeks excuses, to conclude that these residents do not legitimately belong within the nation-state, and consequently are owed less of a space for participation.
The reframing of border residents shows how the EIA process, in coordination with formalised decision-making, can effectively redefine the spatial scale of the local and the nation and make new representations about who is authorised to reside within them. Not only is scale mobilised to exclude certain people from the decision-making process, but a remaking of the scale of the nation-state as a whole is at stake here, and this is part of the same process described in the EIA maps, public information hearings, and Salween Study. In this new ToR, the act of excluding residents and activists as legitimate members of the nation-state effectively redraws the discursive and material boundaries of the nation to exclude their voices and knowledges. In addition, the Hatgyi subcommittee's new ToR underlines the importance to the project's approval of remaking the local scale in ways that may include some Thai territory, but that would also call the status of the residents of that territory into doubt.
In advance of the conclusions of those additional studies, it is not clear whether the impacts will simply be (re)contained to a local scale within Burma through the reinscription of affected residents' nationality and legitimacy. However, even without the new EIA, the act of calling into question residents' belonging to and within the nation has implications. This new ToR ties Salween residents to a broader set of prevailing discourses in Thailand about migrant labour, war, and disease, and their popular association with non-Thais, particularly Burmese and ethnic minority groups. Latt (2009) has pointed out that discursively referring to refugees as illegal migrant workers essentially erases a history of violence and conflict. I would add that in this case it also serves to denormalise, pathologise, and erase a parallel history of economically active, informally recognised minority communities throughout the Salween border region. Residents of the border region may have been made the focus of further study through this ToR, but only through a lens that deauthorises their presence at the border and delegitimises their concerns.
Through this revised ToR, we can again see how pre-defined scales for analyses are not simply 'chosen'. Instead, this adjustment to the EIA process reveals that the remaking of scale remains crucial to shaping knowledge and decisions about the Hatgyi project.
| Discussion and Conclusion|| |
An important part of the argument presented here is that scale is produced, actively contested, and strategically mobilised through knowledge-making and decision-making processes within the EIA. This is a messy, incomplete process. Informed by a history and wealth of experience with dam development, and anticipating opposition from Thai residents and NGOs, the original EIA remade the 'local' scale to the project developer's advantage, stopping project impacts at the political border. This production of a local scale of impacts was facilitated by the recommendation of engineered mitigation measures, such as fish ladders, while it effectively ignored and attempted to disarm bigger questions about the indirect impacts of dam development.
Yet, even if spatially excluded from the EIA, residents of villages within Thailand have attempted to redefine the local scale to include their anticipated impacts from the dam. These residents bolstered their claims and access to natural resources and to the decision-making process through their participation in public hearings and in the Salween Study project. They also made attempts to situate themselves inside the Thai nation-state through their own village histories, participation in the nation's forest management, and discoveries of archaeological artefacts. However, in the recently issued new ToR for the EIA, yet another re-scaling has been attempted to further marginalise these residents from the process. People potentially impacted by the dam were rewritten under this ToR as illegal migrant workers, associated with war and disease, and thus as people who lack legitimate claims to natural resources or to a hearing within Thailand's formalised decision-making processes. Implicitly, this scale-making also externalises impacts, limiting them to ecologies and to people either physically or canonically found to be outside of Thailand. Whether these actions and counteractions were opportunistic or deliberate (Clarke-Sather 2012), they represent a succession of strategies to create and mobilise multiple scales, in this case, the 'local' and 'national' scales, through environmental governance. While there has been much written on the up-scaling of decision-making by actors such as states and NGOs to the national or regional scale, and the downscaling to the 'community' level by NGOs or local actors, the EIA process provides illustration of the ways in which ecological knowledge remake and redefine locality and nationality. This research shows how the EIA simultaneously rescales governance to both the local and national scales, and how outsiders to the EIA have sought to scale themselves back 'in'.
An additional point I wish to draw attention to here is how the EIA realises national claims to knowledge and authority over a transboundary resource, an act that essentially trumps alternative scales. The so-called technical 'facts'-such as the hydrological models or the aforementioned fish ladder proposal that both construct the scale of local impacts in Burma-obscure the political dimensions through their presentation as 'objective' scientific expertise (Mitchell 2002; Sneddon and Fox 2010; Harris and Alatout 2011). These processes also naturalise the nation as the scale through which decision-making is carried out, even in this cross-border project. Despite its calls to the objectivity of science, the Hatgyi EIA's decision-making has ultimately been dominated by questions surrounding what or who 'is Thai', a naturalisation of the national scale that is all the more impactful when we consider that the Salween is a river shared with Burma and China.
This case also has implications for future investments in Burma not just by Thailand, but also investment by many others companies and states, as well as potential for setting standards for Thai investment in neighbouring countries. This comes at a time when Thai investment in energy projects in neighbouring countries, and international investment in Burma more generally, are both increasing.
The arguments put forth here demonstrate not only the ongoing and multifaceted ways in which scale is remade through the EIA process, but also how this scale-making is integral to the way that environmental governance unfolds. In this case, taking scale as 'choice' would miss out on these (contested, messy) processes of remaking scale, and would overlook opportunities to consider how to remake scale differently. Taking scale as a choice also elides important questions. For instance, for (and by) whom is scale remade? What are the processes through which this occurs? How is the nation remade, and with what exclusions? How are scales changed through successive iterations or stages in the EIA process and debate?
The fate of the Hatgyi project and the EIA are still being contested and debated. It remains to be seen in the case presented whether local residents will indeed be rewritten in the new EIA as illegal migrants and refugees, and if (or how) that will have material implications for their access to resources and to a hearing in decision-making processes. However, the driving question throughout my observation of the Hatgyi EIA process was how the EIA, and not local residents, became the 'voice' for assessing environmental impacts. Another way to think about this issue is to consider how environmental groups and local residents at the Salween River, or elsewhere, can or should most effectively continue to spend their time and effort engaging in these environmental decision-making processes, if there is the likely possibility that they will continue to be written out of the process? I present this analysis to underscore the importance of how scale shapes possibilities for more inclusive governance in EIA processes, and how productive engagement could be linked to the possibilities of re-scaling. This, in turn, invites further research regarding how different actors reimagine scale in ways that may in fact open up productive possibilities for 'good' environmental governance.
| Acknowledgements|| |
The author would like to express appreciation to all the participants of the "Ecologies on the Edge" workshop at York University for the thought provoking discussion and comments, and for additional comments on the paper by Peter Vandergeest and Shubhra Gururani. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. The research was supported by awards from York University, including the Vivienne A. Poy and the Martin Cohnstaedt Graduate Research Awards. I also acknowledge the feedback received on an earlier draft of this paper from graduate student discussion group at Roskilde's International Development Studies Program where the author was based for 3 months in 2012. I am most grateful to the residents, activists, scientists, and government officials who took the time speak with me about the Salween.
- There is also room for critique of the emergent terminology of 'scale' in the EIA process, and the constructions of 'scale' in academic scholarship more broadly as a product of certain social science disciplines, such as geography.
- The Salween River is known as the Nu River in China and the Thanlwin River in Burma (Myanmar).
- Due to limitations of space, I cannot review the vast literature on politics of scale in its entirety, but please see overviews on the social construction of scale in geography and political ecology (Neumann 2009; Moore 2008).
- There is a rich literature on regional scale-making, both in development (i.e., Hirsch 2001; Brown and Purcell 2005; Lebel et al 2005; Molle 2007, 2009, Harris and Alatout 2010; Clarke-Sather 2012; etc.) and the construction of regions or area studies in academic scholarship (i.e., Emmerson 1984; van Schendel 2002), but I do not discuss regions here because the process was not emphasised through or within the EIA processes of this research. This exclusion is likely linked to the mandate taken up by the EIA as national legislation which tended to limit concerns to the nation.
- I follow Gururani and Vandergeest's framing of ecological knowledge as "truth claims and related claims to technical and political expertise about the dynamic relationships among the flora, fauna, peoples, hydrologies, soils, geologies, and other biophysical activities in a landscape" (Introduction to this Special Section).
- Beyond what I reference here, there is very limited critical discussion of EIAs as related to scale, and none that I could find to cite from the political ecology literature or in this journal. I located only one academic article using web of science, geobase, and google scholar. This article, titled, "How scale affects environmental impact assessment", was published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review (not a political ecology or human geography journal). This article is illustrative because it presents scale conventionally as a 'choice' and the author points to two meanings of scale, spatial extent and geographical detail (João 2002:290). The author does importantly point out that these choices have outcomes, and they promote assessment through "multiscalar" analysis. However, this presentation of scale is instructive is that it suggests that scales exist on their own waiting to be chosen; they are created outside of the EIA study and process. Who 'chooses' the spatial or geographical scales that the article identifies is not discussed. Neither is it acknowledged that the EIA process might also influence what scales of analysis are chosen or how they come to be understood. I raise these points to better position my own arguments regarding how scale is actually produced and not chosen through the EIA process.
- In response to some of the critiques of EIAs, other types of formalised assessments have emerged; this includes the social impact assessment (SIA), health impact assessment (HIA), and the strategic environmental assessment (SEA). In some cases, these assessments are part of the broader EIA process and in other cases they are their own separate (but not necessarily disconnected) processes. There is a need for research and critique of these processes of assessment as well. In the case of the Hatgyi EIA, the social impacts and mitigations are included as part of the EIA.
- There is a draft EIA law (The Government of the Union of Myanmar 2012), and discussions with activists and developers revealed that the Hatgyi EIA process was being considered as a model for future policy (see also, Salween Watch 2010).
- This comparative work has particularly been the case with EIAs in 'Asia'; for instance, see the following studies: Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia (Boyle 1998) or Malaysia, South Africa, Thailand, and Denmark (Stærdahl et al. 2004).
- In addition, the following journals also publish regularly on environmental assessments: Policy and Management, Environmental & Planning Law Journal, and the National Environmental Law Review.
- I use the term 'displaced' in a broad sense that would include both direct and indirect impacts of the dam.
- The Hatgyi subcommittee was formed on 8 June 2009, and members are appointed to provide oversight for the Hatgyi process. It includes ministry, industry, and civil society representatives. The full name is the "Sub-committee to Study Information and Present Comments on the Various Impacts Including Human Rights Abuses in the case of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's proposed Hatgyi Dam Project on the Salween River in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar [Burma]."
- From 2006 to 2008, I worked with TERRA, an organisation under Foundation for Ecological Recovery (FER), which was responsible for the Salween Study project. While I do not present data from my work there, the experience informed my analysis.
- The 2008 report by the Earth Research Institute at Chulalongkorn University that I discuss in this article is titled "Final EIA Report"; however it has not been released to the public, and EGAT officials informed me that it was not necessarily the 'final' EIA report. Therefore, I also refer to the publicly available EIA summary distributed by the Hatgyi subcommittee to present my arguments.
- The work of the organisation Salween Watch to push for a SEA of the Salween basin is one example of a push for thinking about the impacts of proposed dam projects at the scale of the river basin (see, www.salweenwatch.org).
- The purpose of the public information hearings discussed here was to provide information about the project to the public and collect their concerns and questions in order to formulate next steps for the project. The organiser of these public information hearings, the Hatgyi Subcommittee, reports to the Thai Prime Minister's office.
- These hearings in Thailand come after the consultations in Burma with 'local people' that are documented as part of the EIA.
- Delays would occur because, for instance, according to Article 190 of the Thai constitution any project which modifies the political border in any way must be discussed and approved within Thai parliament.
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