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The National Research Council produced the report "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making," in August 2008

(see http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12434)

at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture.





NYTimes Story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/science/wacad.html

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

procedures."



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

outreach.



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.