ELI Primary Menu

Skip to main content

As U.S. EPA Considers Hudson PCB Cleanup, Report Shows How To Enhance Citizen Involvement in Natural Resource Damage Assessment

November 2000

New York State Governor George Pataki recently called for dredging the Hudson River to remove PCBs, a toxic chemical that can harm human health and the environment, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release its recommendation for the cleanup in the next few weeks. The state and federal announcements are coming after years of public outcry about the industrial pollution and its damage to this major waterway. A new ELI report shows how citizens can become better involved in federal restoration efforts for the Hudson and other damaged natural resources.

Both the Superfund law and the Oil Pollution Act, which mandate that companies clean up past pollution, provide for restoration of natural resources damaged by that same pollution. Key to this process is assessing the extent of the damages, which requires a strong voice from citizens to speak up for resources in the public domain, such as rivers, wildlife, and marine ecosystems.

Opportunities for Public Involvement in NOAA’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Efforts: Case Studies of the Hudson River PCB Contamination and the Tampa Bay Oil Spill examines past and current methods for involving the public in assessing damages to natural resources and deciding how they can be restored. Commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ELI’s report identifies strategies for agencies to attract public participation and to increase the regulatory flexibility critical to implementing novel participatory approaches. NOAA serves as a trustee on behalf of the public to evaluate and restore coastal and marine resources injured by hazardous substances and oil spills — a process formally known as “natural resource damage assessment.”

“More then ever, communities today are demanding an active role in decisions that affect their natural resources,” said coauthor Lisa Pelstring, a public participation expert formerly with ELI and now at NOAA’s Damage Assessment Center. “As a result, government agencies need to identify and implement more innovative public involvement approaches — opportunities for comment published in newspaper legal sections clearly don’t reach those people most impacted by agency actions. This report explains concrete steps that NOAA and other agencies can take to engage a more informed, involved citizenry in their decisions about restoring environmental quality.”

After interviewing key stakeholders in New York and Florida and reviewing relevant agency regulations, laws, and publications, ELI’s study offers 10 recommendations to promote broader citizen awareness of, understanding of, and involvement in the NRDA process. ELI’s recommendations range from the very simple, such as convening focus groups to ensure that citizens understand agency informational factsheets, to more complex, such as implementing random sample surveys to identify public preferences.

“NOAA wanted to move beyond the minimum legal requirements for public involvement,” said ELI Senior Attorney Suellen Keiner, the report’s other coauthor. “After reviewing the laws and regulations that govern public participation in the NRDA process, ELI discovered that NOAA and other trustee agencies already have the authority and flexibility to implement a wide range of methods for involving citizens in their decisions. The approaches recommended by the Institute should be much more effective for agencies to gain constructive public participation in their important choices about environmental quality.”

Opportunities for Public Involvement in NOAA’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Efforts: Case Studies of the Hudson River PCB Contamination and the Tampa Bay Oil Spill can be downloaded for free as a PDF file. Print copies cost $12 plus shipping, and can be ordered by calling (800) 433-5120 or by sending an email to orders@eli.org. For press copies, please contact pressrequest@eli.org.