Public Input on Environmental Policy Decisions. A new report from the National Research Council finds that including the public in environmental decision making, when done properly, improves the quality of decisions by federal agencies. Critics have complained that seeking comment from those unfamiliar with the science involved can lead to delays and ineffective decision making. But the NRC study panel, led by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University?s Environmental Science and Policy Program, said that well-managed public involvement increases the legitimacy of decisions and is more likely to improve rather than undermine the quality of decisions
Federal agencies have taken steps to include the public in a wide range of environmental decisions. Although some form of public participation is often required by law, agencies usually have broad discretion about the extent of that involvement. Approaches vary widely, from holding public information-gathering meetings to forming advisory groups to actively including citizens in making and implementing decisions.
Proponents of public participation argue that those who must live with the outcome of an environmental decision should have some influence on it. Critics maintain that public participation slows decision making and can lower its quality by including people unfamiliar with the science involved.
This book concludes that, when done correctly, public participation improves the quality of federal agencies' decisions about the environment. Well-managed public involvement also increases the legitimacy of decisions in the eyes of those affected by them, which makes it more likely that the decisions will be implemented effectively. This book recommends that agencies recognize public participation as valuable to their objectives, not just as a formality required by the law. It details principles and approaches agencies can use to successfully involve the public.