Abstract

1. Introduction Many socioeconomically and geographically diverse communities in the United States have been challenged by occurrences of environmental contamination and the related complex public health issues. The investigations associated with such concerns have traditionally been the responsibility of governmental agencies. Communities facing potential environmental exposures often believe that government-based environmental agencies are not adequately addressing their concerns regarding risk, thus resulting in their misunderstanding and distrust of the regulatory process. A schism develops whereby the community perceives that government is either not doing enough to address their concerns and/or are being influenced by the relevant industry. The governmental agencies involved perceive that the community possesses an inaccurate or irrational perception of the potential risks. As a result, a stressful relationship often arises. Recommendations for effective risk communication have been developed and published (Covello & Sandman, 2001; Hance et al., 1989; Sandman, 1989). Research has also demonstrated the importance of developing relationships among stakeholders and its impact on information delivery and reception (ATSDR, 2004). Given that stakeholder groups perceive risk differently, it is imperative for each group to appreciate the viewpoints of all involved to engage in effective dialog (Park et al., 2001; Tinker et al., 2001). Cox (2006) defines environmental communication as “…the pragmatic and constitutive vehicle for our understanding of the environment as well as our relationships to the natural world; it is the symbolic medium that we use in constructing environmental problems and negotiating society’s different responses to them.” Although opportunities for public participation in environmental assessments have greatly increased, the environmental communication process among key stakeholders needs further evaluation (Charnley & Engelbert, 2005; McKinney & Harmon, 2002). The purpose of this chapter is to describe an evaluative process to develop and propose recommendations that could improve the environmental communication that occurs among diverse stakeholders, such as an environmental regulation and protection agency, waste disposal and energy producing facilities, community activists and the general public. Two case studies will be presented; the first describes the management of environmental permitting decisions in several disparate communities; and the second describes the management and perception of health risks from a single-owner waste-to-energy facility in two distinct communities. To accomplish this goal, this chapter will: 1.) examine how a state environmental agency and waste disposal and energy producing facilities describe their environmental communication experiences regarding various permitting operations and the risk perceptions of the impacted communities; 2.) identify effective communication methods; 3.) discuss the strengths and limitations of these activities; and 4.) propose recommendations for practitioners to advance environmental communication strategies among these key stakeholders.

Publication Date

2011

Publisher

InTech

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

10.5772/17240

Document Type

Book Chapter

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