PCS Phosphate: Participation is necessary, whether or not it’s required

Since finding out about PCS Phosphate’s plans to build  a sulfur melting facility at the Morehead City Port, the community has been swift to organize in opposition of the plant. Some of the reaction is in genuine concern about the environmental and economic impacts of the plant, but most if it circles around the fact that by the time the first public articles were released about the plant, permits had been signed and to many, the plan seemed like a done deal. All without input or comment from the public, or even from much of the Morehead City leadership.

The permit issuers are just doing their jobs – but the situation begs a larger review of state agency activity. Many state employees feel like it would help them to collaborate with people in another agency (eg regarding mercury in the Cape Fear), and in cases like this, an approach agency-by-agency can leave out the big picture. In this case, the big picture is that PCS Phosphate has yet to do a full environmental impact statement or collect any comments on the project as a whole. Sure, 4.5 kg of hydrogen sulfide a day seems ok (air permit), and it fits with the industrial zoning of the port (zoning permit). But will the addition of emitting industries compete with the tourist industry? We have no idea. In previous cases, such as the Titan Cement case in Wilmington, this has left the company open for lawsuits that have been tied up in court for years.

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Why Listen to the Local Guy?

policymaking during comanagement in Mongolia, rcinet.ca

Two of Ostrom’s (1990) institutional design principles emphasize the role of the local –rules must be adapted to local conditions and resource users must participate in the rulemaking process. These principles were determined empirically through cross-site analysis, but a large body of research from science studies supports these finding theoretically as well. The most clear example of including the community in management is through comanagement, which works at the collective level to shift how and where rules are made (Jentoft, McCay et al. 1998). The comanagement process also highlights the importance of different types of knowledge to the policy process by providing a more complete base of information on which to make decisions.

The supporting theory reaches back to early studies in game theory that determined the fairness of a rule was one of the critical factors in determining if cooperation would emerge (Axelrod 1984). Fairness does not necessarily mean that every citizen benefits equally, but instead that people are punished according to their transgressions and benefit according to their contributions. However, the perception of fairness matters more than actual fairness when people evaluate a policy. That perception depends on transparency of the policymaking process. Gusterson goes so far as to say “instead of seeking a definitive technical judgment, then, we should ask about the processes by which judgments come to be considered definitive and their authors authoritative” (Nader 1996). People are more likely to consider a policy fair if they consider the process fair. One way, arguably the best way, to make the process transparent and therefore fair is to involve citizens in that process. Read More

Building Policies for Stewardship

A dream? tomschlueter.blogspot.com

We as humans and especially here at SFS like to picture an ideal government and hope that as we learn more about science and political theory, government can take steps in that direction. By any measure, governance within the United States is far from meeting the theoretical ideal. Implementation and enforcement are often pointed at as more important factors than policy design in terms of effectiveness in meeting policy goals. But if we ever had the chance to change the design, here’s four principles that will help make sure we move in the right direction.

Addressing Scale: Appropriate information gathering

If scale is unified at the ecosystem level – bounded by hydrological and geophysical boundaries – then information about the system must also represent the ecosystem scale. Fisheries management, for example, requires information on all the potential factors that could affect stock size – habitat, water quality, fishing pressure, competition with other native and nonnative species, productivity of the food web, etc. Furthermore, the total fishery stock in an area would have to be considered together – total biomass of market species, for example. These types of measurements will delineate threats to conservation to a particular species versus threats to the health of the whole system. Read More

State of the Field: Policy is not just for policymakers anymore

Even the Governator believes in public participation, thanks cdcr.ca.gov

Continuing this series’ recent theme of ways to make policy work, let’s consider a broader view of what policy is and therefore who gets to create policy. It’s not just the elected officials with legislation in their job description. For one, those people are accountable to the people who elected them. Second, formal written policy is not the only kind that is effective – informal rules, community traditions, and other forms of policy are often best. Plus, these types of policy offer the general public a change to be involved in creation and implementation.

There is a large literature on the value of participation in policymaking, especially in fisheries (Silver and Campbell 2005). Here I will focus on three particularly important aspects of participation to management at the scale of an estuary, where I work: a) additional knowledge creation, b) community buy-in, and c) tighter feedback loops. These are important for relatively large-scale systems with several communities and many variables that could affect management. Read More