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Bill Cook, chief of the research grants division, which manages the fund, said that the effort has produced some successes, but the number of good proposals for grants (up to $ 100,000 apiece for each of three years) has dropped in recent years because the fund can only be used to finance projects dealing with materials collected at curbside. The Department of Commerce wants to expand the list of materials to encourage more innovative proposals with potentially greater environmental and commercial benefits.

ISSUES AND THEMES

State Politics and Policies

States are often called the laboratories of democracy because state governments are generally more responsive to voters and hence more innovative than the federal government. The relative speed with which states have developed indicator programs, benchmarking systems, and environmental technology programs attests to the states' ability to build new systems quickly. Of course, the flip side of responsiveness is volatility: in innovation is instability.

With most changes of a governorship or the parties' control of a legislature comes pressure to throw out or reconstruct the predecessors' initiatives. Before leaving office, Washington Governor Booth Gardner described his administration's "Washington Environment 2010" risk-based priority-setting process as one of his proudest legacies. But his successor dismantled that effort and built something new to achieve similar objectives.21 The new approach appears to be as strong and effective as any of its counterparts, through that is no assurance that it will—or should—last beyond the governor's term.

Because of the vicissitude of public opinion, government programs and priorities are often whipsawed by crisis and fads. Depending on the type of program, managers may use different administrative structures and approaches to achieve some longer-term stability.

Environmental regulatory agencies face the challenge of keeping their resources focused on particular problems, which may go in and out of fashion with the legislators who control their annual appropriations. To foster stability in state environmental protection goals, many administrators have turned to collaborative processes like Minnesota's milestones and sustainable development efforts. Managers may hope to accomplish at least three things by engaging state employees, academics, business representatives, and the general public in a goal-setting process:

  • to build a public constituency for the agency's goals;

  • to effect a lasting change in the public's understanding of the environment; and

  • to effect a lasting change in the agency's understanding of its challenge and of the public's values and goals.



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