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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
cultural, and economic, at least as much as they are scientific and technical. Environmental decisions have varied and uncertain effects on the values and interests of people in diverse societies, so there are rarely only two sides to a question. Furthermore, progress on environmental problems often requires changes in the behavior of a multitude of diverse groups of actors, not just corporations and governments. Citizens are now targets of policy and thus often are stakeholders in the same way that organizations are.
There typically are multiple perspectives regarding the relative importance of issues, the best courses of action, and even the right questions to ask, with strong demands from those who may be affected by policy choices to have their voices heard (Forester, 1989; Dryzek, 1990; Fischer and Forester, 1993; Ingram and Smith, 1993; Schneider and Ingram, 1997; Stone, 2002; Feldman et al., 2006; Healey, 2006). The variety of questions that must be addressed to inform a single decision is often staggering, and conflict is almost inevitable (Crowfoot and Wondolleck, 1990; Stern, 1991; Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991; Aronoff and Gunter, 1992; National Research Council, 1996, 2005a; Dietz and Stern, 1998; Proctor, 1998; Beierle and Konisky, 2000; Lubell, 2000; Dietz, 2001; Brown et al., 2002; Campbell, 2003; Lewicki, Gray, and Eliot, 2003). Some parties may lack the power and resources to participate effectively in the policy system via traditional mechanisms: some are highly organized, and others are a more diffuse array of individual citizens (Forester, 1989; Williams and Matheny, 1995).
The high public and political visibility of many environmental issues also can add complex dynamics to the process, and the more attention is given to an issue, the more likely it will be that simultaneous opportunities to influence public decisions will exist in legislative, executive, and judicial forums, at multiple levels of government, and in the media. It is in this highly complex arena—in which those who believe that industry and development are being unnecessarily stifled contend with those who believe that the environment is being irreparably damaged and those who believe that the costs of environmental change are being unfairly distributed—that public decisions are made about making and implementing environmental policy.
The conflicts that arise in environmental policy result not only from differences in values and interests. When parties have different objectives and concerns, they need different information from science in order to consider themselves adequately informed. When they experience different parts of an environmental system, they gain different kinds of knowledge and sometimes apply different “ways of knowing” (Fischer, 2000; Feldman et al., 2006). These characteristics of environmental decisions suggest significant pitfalls in delegating too much influence to experts, because they