Considerable empirical research has been conducted on why policy tools such as environmental assessment (EA) often appear to have ‘little effect’ (after Weiss) on policy decisions. This article revisits this debate but looks at a mediating factor that has received limited attention to-date in the context of EA — political power. Using a tripartite analytical framework, a comparative analysis of the influence and significance of power in mediating environmental policy integration is undertaken. Power is analysed, albeit partially, through an exploration of institutions that underpin social order. Empirically, the research examines the case of a new approach to policy-level EA (essentially a form of Strategic Environmental Assessment) developed by the World Bank and its trial application to urban environmental governance and planning in Dhaka mega-city, Bangladesh. The research results demonstrate that power was intimately involved in mediating the influence of the policy EA approach, in both positive (enabling) and negative (constraining) ways. It is suggested that the policy EA approach was ultimately a manifestation of a corporate strategy to maintain the powerful position of the World Bank as a leading authority on international development which focuses on knowledge generation. Furthermore, as constitutive of an institution and reflecting the worldviews of its proponents, the development of a new approach to EA also represents a significant power play. This leads us to, firstly, emphasise the concepts of strategy and intentionality in theorising how and why EA tools are employed, succeed and fail; and secondly, reflect on the reasons why power has received such limited attention to-date in EA scholarship.
Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 2013, Vol 39, p. 5-12