able to send useful signals to legislators about spending and priorities. State agency officials also hope that the goals will encourage more consistency in policy and spending over the years, moderating the typical swings in policy that develop from daily crises and political transitions. Governors seem to like to initiate big goals projects because they appear to offer some hope of leaving a lasting imprint on the state.
EPA's Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation is trying to do the same thing with the national environmental goals project and for roughly the same reasons. The project has many of the strengths and weaknesses of the state goals and indicator projects.
As Minnesota's experience showed, it is possible for a state to create a thoughtful, dynamic, and expansive forum for reaching consensus on environmental goals. Yet, even when thousands of people participate, many more thousands do not, adding to the difficulty of maintaining sufficient public attachment to the goals for them to influence decisions over time. That challenge is heightened when the forum attacks a broad range of issues and treats each of the resulting goals or milestones with equal importance.
Setting priorities among goals—and acknowledging that some may be mutually exclusive—is difficult, in part because goals are abstract until they are reduced to the specific investments, regulations, or activities that will actually lead to their attainment. In the goals and indicators projects described above, it is only at this last step that the legislatures have become fully involved. When real money is at stake and when decisions get close to home, the strength of the information-based, consensus-building process is put to the test.
Government gets closest to home at the municipal level, and several cities have developed some experience with environmental goal-setting.
Seattle has had one of the nation's strongest environmental planning programs over the last decade. Its experiences illuminate some of the strengths and limits of the endeavor.
The City Planning Department conducted a ground-breaking comparative risk project in 1991. Technical advisory committees composed of city officials and others from business, nongovernmental organizations, and other government agencies analyzed the city's environmental problems and ranked them in terms of the risk they posed and in terms of the priority the city government ought to place on addressing them. (See the last table in the appendix.) The mayor and city council used these rankings and the underlying data when crafting subsequent budgets. The city incorporated much of this priority-setting work in its current comprehensive plan.
J. Gary Lawrence, who for five years was head of the Seattle Office of Long-Range Planning and who now teaches at the University of Washington, said that