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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
process; http://missouririver.ecr.gov/?link=411). Issues worthy of examination in these efforts include the extent to which resources can be combined, how much of those resources support the public participation process and how much support coordination, and the effectiveness of coordination in terms of the durability of decisions reached. Other practices used to clarify and coordinate stakeholder participation include formal memoranda of understanding between agencies (e.g., to establish cooperating agency status under the National Environmental Policy Act) or written terms of reference (often called protocols) for the public participation process.
What are the legal or regulatory mandates or constraints on theconvening agency? What laws or policies need to be considered,both in how the process is structured and in defining the scope ofthe issues that can be addressed?
Applicable laws and regulations or the domain of other agencies affect what can and cannot be done in the participatory process and how agencies with authority to act may use the results of the process. Statutes and regulations shape both the framing of issues and how agencies conduct their work, including the ways they engage in public participation. None of them, however, reduce the complexity that often arises in addressing environmental problems “on the ground.”
Open meeting laws, administrative procedure laws, executive directives, judicial rulings, and the procedures and requirements set by senior officials of the agencies are part of the framework for participation. Since the framework varies across agencies, this context must be taken into account, and, in particular, the requirements and limitations under which an agency is operating should be made clear to the participants.
Legislative mandates may either require or constrain public participation. For example, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires that the U.S.D.A. Forest Service “hold public meetings or comparable processes … that foster public participation” in the “development, review, and revision of forest plans” (Office of Technology Assessment, 1992). The Forest Service may have the most explicit public involvement mandate of all U.S. agencies (Daniels and Walker, 1997).
Other laws help shape public participation practices at the federal level. These include the National Environmental Policy Act (and related guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality concerning involving the public in scoping the issues included in an environmental assessment), the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Negotiated Rulemaking Act, and the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act. State and local governments often have varying versions of open meeting laws,