body of research demonstrates that the political aspects of stakeholder processes do not sacrifice decision quality (Beierle, 2000) and that public participation (NRC, 2008) can in fact add information to and improve the quality and legitimacy of agencies’ decisions about the environment.10 Because decisions may ultimately have some impact for the stakeholders, if the decision-making process is to be fair and democratic stakeholders must be given the opportunity to be involved in making those decisions, including decisions about which uncertainties need better elucidation. Early and continuous involvement of stakeholders can also prevent delays that can occur when stakeholders are not engaged in decision making until later in the process, at which time they might take legal actions.
EPA has issued much guidance on public and stakeholder involvement in its programs and activities (EPA, 1998, 2003, 2011a), and there are several regulations that contain public involvement procedures for specific EPA programs and activities.11 The EPA also issued an agency-wide public involvement policy (reissued periodically with updates) that can be applied to all EPA programs and activities (EPA, 2003).12 The agency-wide policy is not mandatory, however. In spite of the existing guidance, there has been repeated concern and criticism over the failure of EPA to engage stakeholders more systematically and adequately as part of its various regulatory mandates for environmental decision making (see, for example, NRC, 1996, 2008; Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997). This was the justification for a recommendation made in Science and Decisions (NRC, 2009) that EPA adopt formal provisions for stakeholder involvement across a three-phase framework for
individuals and organizations they include) have also varied. Unless otherwise specified, in this report we use stakeholder to refer to any parties interested in or affected by a decision-making authority’s activities. Stakeholders may include decision makers, industry groups, communities and community organizations, environmental organizations, scientists and technical specialists, individuals from the public, and others.
10 For a comprehensive review of research on public participation in environmental assessment and decision making, the reader is encouraged to refer to NRC, 2008.
11 See, for example, 40 CFR Part 25—Public Participation in Programs under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Water Act; 40 CFR Part 271—Requirements for Authorization of State Hazardous Waste Programs; 40 CFR Part 300—National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, Subpart E—Hazardous Substance Response (establishes methods and criteria for determining the appropriate extent of response authorized by CERCLA and CWA section 311(c)).
12 According to the guidance, the seven basic steps to effective public involvement are to (1) plan and budget for public involvement activities, (2) identify the interested and affected public, (3) consider providing technical or financial assistance to the public to facilitate involvement, (4) provide information and outreach to the public, (5) conduct public consultation and involvement activities, (6) review and use input and provide feedback to the public, and (7) evaluate public involvement activities (EPA, 2003).