This article investigates an environmental governance mechanism in Brazil: the Public Hearings for Environmental Licensing (Aplas). Through a case study - a ring road currently under construction around the São Paulo Metropolitan Area - we evaluate the effectiveness of this mechanism that seeks to expand popular participation in the public discussion of enterprises with potential environmental risk. Analysing the social profile and the cognitive and material resources of the Aplas' potential participants as well as Aplas modus operandis, we argue that Aplas present the same problems pointed out by the literature on the functioning of deliberative processes: the most active agents are pre-established elites; authorities have agenda control; Aplas have low influence on environmental public policies. Hence, we conclude that Aplas' lack of legitimacy and efficacy, not being able to ensure the effective participation of ordinary citizens in the environmental licensing process.
IDS Bulletin - Vol 35 No 2, pp. 49-57 [ DOI: 10.1111/j.1759-5436.2004.tb00121.x]