The National Research Council produced the report "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making," in August 2008
at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture.
August 23, 2008
Report Says Public Outreach, Done Right, Aids Policymaking
By CORNELIA DEAN
For decades, laws have required many government agencies to seek public
participation in the establishment of environmental policies. And for decades
critics have derided the requirement as producing little more than confusion,
delay, expense, distorted science and, as a government report once put it, "a
proliferation of opportunities to misinterpret or misapply required
But a growing body of evidence suggests that the process, done correctly, can
improve policies and smooth their implementation, according to a report
issued Friday by an expert panel convened by the National Research Council.
Though critics often assert that members of the public are too ignorant to
weigh the science involved in environmental policies, "public participation
can help get the science right and get the right science," said Thomas Dietz,
the director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Michigan
State University, who headed the panel.
"A lot of science has to be applied to a very local context," he said in a
telephone interview. "Local knowledge is essential."
The council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced
the report ("Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision
Making," at http://national-academies.org<http://national-academies.org/>) at the request of the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the
departments of energy and agriculture. Dr. Dietz said it aims to draw
together an abundance of new research on what he calls "the melding together
of science and democracy" and to offer guidance for agencies beginning public
For example, the report notes that agencies may find themselves trying to
wring consensus out of people who disagree practically to the point of
violence. In that event, it says, it can be helpful to schedule field trips
or other events at the beginning of the process, so that participants get to
know each other as more than just representatives of a view they dislike.