RISK: Health, Safety & Environment


Mary R. English


[Excerpt] "In the United States, as in other countries, public participation in environmental policy decisions has come a long way. In its infancy, it was limited to public hearings concerning decisions that were, for all practical purposes, "done deals." Overturning public agency decisions could be accomplished only through expensive, often protracted, usually futile court cases, and then only if the issue was justiciable and the plaintiff had the funds and standing to sue. In recent decades - especially since the 1960s - opportunities for public participation in the U.S. have been overhauled. Access to documents has been assured through federal and state "freedom of information" acts. The public may be asked to help -"scope" the issue at hand (i.e., determine its salient features) early in the decision-making process. Informal question and answer sessions often supplement the formal, one-way testimony of public hearings. No longer are decisions typically made behind closed doors. Public comments usually are documented and accompanied by written responses from the decision-making agency. Administrative reviews of decisions are often a first recourse, before bringing suit. And, standing to sue is more broadly interpreted. But public participation has two inherent deficiencies. First, it fails to differentiate among members of the public. Second, it preserves an "us/them" distinction between the decision-making agency and citizens. As a remedy, stakeholder involvement - which does differentiate among citizens and does help to lower "us/them" barriers - is an increasingly popular supplement to conventional public participation, especially on controversial issues involving environmental risks."

Repository Citation

Mary R. English, Who Are the Stakeholders in Environmental Risk Decisions - How Should They Be Involved, 11 RISK 243 (2000).