708 Miami Terrace
Hendersonville, NC 28791
For much of the past two decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and state environmental agencies have been guided by a basic commitment to assessing environmental risks. Most often, these risks have been conceptualized as those environmental factors considered to be detrimental to human health though recently growing attention has been paid to threats to ecosystems as well. Within the past several years, many environmental risk assessors have come to the conclusion that point-source pollution and associated environmental risks, by and large, have been effectively reduced and managed via environmental legislation and the enforcement of existing regulations.
Regulators have had less success, however, in rrianaging non-point sources of pollution and in assessing non-health related risks. In an effort to address the environmental threats posed by non-point sources of pollution and to more effectively address all environmental risks, regulators are increasingly turning to local organizations for assistance, and they are welcoming public participation in environmental policy development.
The U.S. EPA and state environmental agencies have in recent years funded a number of state and local comparative risk projects. These, in general, have been created to actively engage local communities, increase public participation, analyze all risks posed by environmental threats, and achieve a greater degree of consensus regarding appropriate actions for managing identified risks. Over the past year, I have served as a consulting anthropologist for one such project, the Hamilton County (Ohio) Environmental Priorities Project (HCEPP).
This two-year+ project, supported by the Ohio and U.S. EPAs, brings together approximately 200 participants from neighborhoods, government, and business. They have been charged with the challenge of identifying and prioritizing environmental issues facing Hamilton County (the greater Cincinnati area), and the development of action plans designed to address these concerns. The HCEPP had its origin in a preexisting organization, the Hamilton County Environmental Action Commission (HCEAC). The HCEAC has been instrumental in initiating restoration efforts on the Mill Creek, one of the most severely polluted urban streams in North America. The HCEAC requested assistance from the Center for the Resolution of Disputes in implementing a project that would develop consensus among groups that had normally confronted one another primarily in adversarial roles. Thus, the HCEPP was born. The project has received funding from the U.S. and Ohio EPAs, local business organizations, and several non-profit foundations.
Oversight for the project is provided by a board of trustees and a project director. The director is an affiliate of the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. The HCEPP began fully functioning in early 1996 and is slated to complete its operations in June or July of this year (1998). A consensus forum (CF), consisting of 21 members, acts as the decision-making body that approves, amends, and finalizes project statements and reports. It consists of, approximately, 50% independent citizens, 30% business representatives, and 20% government participants. This forum is supported by a number of working groups (WGs). Much of the actual information gathering, issue conceptualization, prioritization, and action planning takes place within the various working groups.
The HCEPP, in common with similar projects, is based upon a number of (explicitly espoused) premises. All stakeholders in the community (Hamilton County)
are welcome and encouraged to participate in the project. Both science-based technical information and social and political information provided by citizens are to be incorporated into project decision-making. Communication is to be open. This is a consensus-driven project where all participants are asked to deliberate in a collaborative, problem-solving manner. Participants are expected to identify information needs and sources, and develop the analytic tools needed to satisfactorily assess the information gathered by the project. Agreements are reached that "everyone can live with"; they are not necessarily decisions that maximize benefits for all parties. Agreements are to be implemented collaboratively. The director has been instrumental in keeping these operating premises alive and functioning in the project. During each major step in the projects development, these premises have been explicitly reiterated.
The project, broadly conceived, consists of two major phases, one to dentify, assess, and prioritize environmental issues, the other to develop action strategies. During Phase One (1996-1997), four working groups, and their committees, assessed the quality of air, land, and water resources, and environmental decision-making and public participationl,in Hamilton County. They conceptualized salient environmental issues, and developed analyses of these issues. In October and November of 1997 several project-wide meetings were convened to prioritize the issues generated by the various working groups. A separate meeting was held for each working group.
Phase One Working Groups and Their Committees
Air Working Group
Land Working GroupCommittees:Land Use
Solid Waste Management
Water Working GroupCommittees:Biocontaminants
Env. Decision-Making/Public Participation Working Group
The first major task assigned to the Phase One working groups was the development of a vision statement (these statements are appended to this paper). Adopting this activity from similar completed environmental risk/prioritization projects, the HCEPP working groups developed statements reflecting their idealized hopes for the quality of air, land, water, and environmental decision-making/public participation in Hamilton County twenty years from now. These vision statements were to act as the end goals of the project, guiding groups in their deliberations as the project evolved.
Early in the project, HCEPP staff developed a matrix (sample appended) to help the working groups identify and conceptualize environmental issues in the county. Along the vertical axis were listed various causes (stressors) and their sources (ozone, for example, and its various sources). The horizontal axis consisted of five major areas of concern or impact: human health, quality of life, ecosystem health, economic impact, and equality or equity of impact. Using a generic matrix as their guide, each committee developed its own matrix of issues. In these committee generated matrices, each cell represents a salient issue. For example, the biocontaminants committee (a part of the water working group), identified combined sewer overflows (CSOs), wherein untreated sewage and storm water runoff combined are released into area streams during "rain events", as one important environmental causeistressor. The effects of CSOs on human health (increasing numbers of gastrointestinal and skin infections) were identified as one important environmental issue (one cell in the Biocontaminant Committee Issue Matrix). Needless to say, this process was lengthy and complex. In final committee reports to their relevant working groups, well over 100 major environmental issues were identified. Most committees met on a bi-weekly or weekly basis. Their work in issue conceptualization and analysis occurred over a six to nine month period of time, with the majority of committee work being completed between April and September, 1997.
In September and October of 1997, working groups consolidated committee papers into four major reports (one for each of the working groups). These were reviewed by participants in the issue prioritization meetings held in October and November. One meeting was convened for each of the four working groups. All followed a similar format and all were open to the public. Anyone who wished could participate in the prioritization, provided the relevant working group report had been reviewed prior to the prioritization meeting. The first part of each meeting consisted of a report and overview of working group activities by the groups formally designated "facilitators". The actual prioritization, led by a representative from the Center for the Resolution of Disputes, had two parts. First, sheets listing each issue were spread out on the walls of the meeting room. Participants then placed colored, adhesive dots on these sheets, one dot per person per issue. The dots were in tour colors, each signifying a different priority ranking: high, medium high, medium low, or low. After all participants completed this step, the facilitator then led discussion on each issue, beginning with those for which there already seemed to be a high degree of consensus. A push was made to complete this process in the allotted time (approx. three hours). This tended to shorten discussion in some instances, and often final rankings moved toward the mid-point (i.e., either medium high or medium low). All ranking was achieved via consensus. Participants were urged to seek final rankings that "they could live with".
The working group reports and prioritization rankings were submitted to the December and January meetings of the consensus forum for final approval and revision. In the consensus forum, minor ranking changes occurred and the working group reports were combined and abridged. The HCEPP Issue Assessment Summary documents the results of this process. The following constitute the major concerns identified in this document:
Brownf ields and Toxic Chemicals
Equality of Environmental Impact
Phase Two began in January of this year with a series of "town meetings" held in various parts of the county and led by members of the consensus forum. The aim of these, according to the director, was to elicit increased public participation and comment regarding the work of the project and to increase the projects visibility in the county. Other activities that have been initiated to increase public involvement include the broad dissemination of the Issue Assessment Summary, creation of a public directory of environmental authorities and organizations in Hamilton County, distribution of a county greenways map, production of a project video (already aired on local public TV), a multi-media presentation that is being shown to community (neighborhood) councils and other groups, a project website, a traveling exhibit for showing at libraries and commercial institutions, and regular press releases.
Several strategic planning sessions were held during the winter months. These included leading members of the project staff, consensus forum, and working groups. During these meetings, the details of Phase Two were hammered out. Issues were grouped into eight major categories and new Phase Two working groups were assembled ardund each. Most of the members of these new working groups were also participants in Phase One working groups. These new groups are now considering action strategies to address the prioritized issues identified by the project. Here are the Phase Two working groups by area of concern:
Air Pollution: Outdoor Air Discharges
Waste Generation and Management
Sewage and Flooding: Surface Water Discharges
There are several "final products" envisioned by project staff. These include: identification of key environmental issues, an informed public discussion, collection and analysis of data about the current state of the environment, an integration of scientific information and community values, consensus on actions to improve the environment, agreement to collaborate to implement one or more action strategies, and a plan for implementation of the collaborative action strategies. Some discussion has occurred regarding a possible Phase Three. At present, no funds have become available for this. However, the history of the project has been such that no more than 4-6 weeks of operating monies have been available at any given point in time. So, more financing could become available. Another possibility would be for the project to convert into an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff.
My work with the HCEPP officially began on June 1, 1997, under sponsorship from the Environmental Anthropology Project, funded via a cooperative agreement between the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) and the U.S. EPA. From the beginning of June through the 20th of August, I participated in almost all project staff, committee, and working group meetings. I assisted in clarifying quality of life (QOL) concerns, helped group members develop working definitions of project concepts, and identified potential data sources. Frequently, I was also able to provide useful input regarding other areas of concern as well (esp. ecological health). During the course of the summer, I assisted all committees in identifying relevant environmental issues and in developing their issue matrices. I acted as facilitator for several meetings. In some, I kept the meeting minutes.
An additional important function during the summer was to serve as a liaison among the various committees. Frequently, I relayed information from group to group, and helped provide a project-wide context for specific committee deliberations. Attending essentially all project activities allowed me to effectively address members questions and concerns regarding the projects goals and procedures. I also served as a mentor to several younger staff members who participated in the project.
During the summer, I developed and presented a QOL definitions sheet for staff members, a QOL criteria worksheet for committee and working group members, and a QOLIHCEPP explanatory handout and worksheet for community council meetings and other public interface. In an effort to give committee members some quantitative information regarding QOL concerns, I also gathered local opinion poll data from several Hamilton County organizations (Cincinnati Office of Environmental Services, Hamilton County and Cincinnati parks offices, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, etc.)
Maintaining sufficient numbers of committee and working group members has been an ongoing challenge for the project. Consequently, in addition to my other duties over the summer, I coordinated an inactive member reinvolvement initiative. This resulted in reinvolving a number of previously active participants and the recruitment of several new members who continue to provide valuable assistance to the project. I also helped to identify community environmental activists who should receive regular project updates, including the project newsletter.
When I was not busy with meeting related activities, a portion of my time was spent in the project library reviewing, sorting, and filing materials as they arrived. As part of my work in organizing and updating holdings in the library, I daily reviewed the countys major newspapers and collected relevant articles from them. These were then photocopied and organized in binders according to environmental medium (air, land, water, or "mixed" media).
During my first month with the project, I conducted a rapid appraisal of most Hamilton County communities (i.e., Cincinnatis neighborhoods, suburbs, townships, and outlying villages) with special attention being given to those where substantial environmental concerns were known to exist. I interviewed a number of key informants from environmental organizations, city and county governments, local schools, and community councils. I toured sites of special significance, including those most impacted by pollution, such as Mill Creek and the Fernald nuclear waste site, and those areas still in a relatively pristine condition (including old growth forest areas in several Cincinnati parks). I also attended a number of community council meetings to get a better feel for environmental concerns at the neighborhood level.
In October and November of this year, I returned to help with the issue prioritization process. I attended all working group prioritization meetings, and assisted working group members in preparing for these. I helped review, edit, and revise the air and water working group reports. I also spent more time organizing the library and preparing a brief users guide. During this two week period, I had the chance to talk with many project participants regarding their views of the project, its process and progress.
My plans are to return for a brief period at the end of the second phase of the project this summer. I will then draft a report that provides an overall review and analysis of the project, from a sociocultural anthropologists perspective. This report will be available to the HCEPP and will also be submitted to the SfAA and U.S. EPA.
The majority of my time with the project has been spent in helping project participants conceptualize and analyze quality of life (QOL) environmental impacts. QOL concerns involve those (generally 1ocality~specific) environmentally-related factors, not explicitly categorized as human health or ecological in nature, that are seen to markedly improve or diminish the life experience of residents of the locality. Often, these relate most directly to land and surface water issues as these aspects of the experienced environment tend to be the most perceptually salient to individuals.
On a more general level of analysis, human health and ecological issues are actually a part of more inclusive quality of life concerns. However, in recent comparative risk analysis and environmental prioritization projects, QOL analysis has concerned itself with those things not defined as primarily human health related or ecological in nature. Many factors or measures used in QOL analysis actually deal with human psychological states, hence human mental and physical health. Also, questions of balance between human activities and local ecosystems are often judged by the nonspecialist public in terms of aesthetic appeal, an intuitive response to ecological conditions.
Most environmental risk analysis and environmental prioritization projects have not clearly defined QOL terms. This is largely due to the highly subjective and socioculturally-specific nature of the subject matter, lack of common, pre-existing definitions, and difficulty in achieving widespread consensus among a diverse range of constituencies. Different localities, varying as they do in ethnic, religious, and racial composition, economic base and relative affluence, and geographic and ecological positioning, may come to have quite different commonly held beliefs and attitudes regarding those factors that improve or diminish the quality of ones life in their specific place. For this reason, QOL analysis clearly needs to rely on locality-specific data, where this exists.
Various general criteria have been suggested and/or used to assess QOL risks and priorities. Below are listed some of those that have been employed in previous projects:
Aesthetics ( Esp. Visual, Auditory, and Olfactory Elements)
Sense of Economic Well-Being (Perceived Env./Econ. lnterface)
Sense of Fairness (Social Equity)
Satisfaction w/Perceived Recreational Opportunities (Scope, Range, Access)
Peace of Mind (Feeling of Safety, Security)
Sense of Community (Neighborhood Self-Identity, Topophilia)
Estimated Impact on Future Generations
In HCEPP sessions, I attempted to provide input relevant to these general criteria. Many meetings involved focus group type activities in which I led participants in discussions of the QOL impacts of particular environmental stressors. These often encouraged group members to more carefully examine the sociocultural bases of their own beliefs and values in regard to aesthetic, recreational, security, community identity, and generational equity concerns. also challenged participants to consider Hamilton County in a broader regional and national context and to reflect upon the many ways in which lifestyle choices influence environmental conditions.
The HCEPP is a novel, consensus-driven approach to local level environmental policy development. Anthropologists possess skills and knowledge that can aid environmental risk and prioritization projects in considering the full range of factors that influence quality of life in a particular locality. My involvement in the HCEPP has, by all estimates, been beneficial to the project. Active participation from the inception to the conclusion of the project would have allowed for even more helpful technical assistance and for a more complete analysis of the organization and its functioning.
The project as a whole would have benefited if more time had been allotted for issue analysis and action plan development. Participants have already expressed concerns about the relative lack of time devoted to these two activities.
While my explicit assignment was to assist with QOL concerns, 1 frequently found myself contributing to other aspects of the project as well, especially in regard to the conceptualization, description, and analysis of other areas of concern. As a participant-observer, this is certainly to be expected. And, as would be the case with most other anthropologists in a similar role, my experience and expertise frequently transcended the confines of QOL concerns (as narrowly defined).
Empirical data on QOL factors, in most communities, are seriously lacking. Anthropologists might provide tremendous help to future comparative risk projects in collecting and analyzing such data, if sufficient time and funding are provided. Such was not the case in the HCEPP. Perhaps the major benefit of having anthropological involvement in environmental risk analysis projects is the input that anthropologists can provide to participants regarding the many ways that lifestyles impact the environment, and the profound influence that culture can exert over daily habits.
The HCEPP has already accomplished several of its goals. It has succeeded in "bringing to the table" individuals from a diverse array of organizations, many of whom typically relate to one another primarily in adversarial ways. It has succeeded in increasing discussion of local environmental concerns and in involving the public in a local environmental policy-making initiative. It is in the process of developing action plans to address major environmental concerns. A final estimation of the outcomes of this project, and of the impact of having anthropological involvement in it, must await its conclusion later this year.
Clinton County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC).
1995 State of the Environment: Environmental planning for our future generations. Clinton County, OH: CCRPC.
Delhagen, Ed, Joanne Dea, and Kare Kramer
1996 Comparative Risk at the Local Level: Lessons from the Road (A review of eight local comparative risk projects). Boulder, CO: Western Center for Environmental Decision-making.
Hamilton County Environmental Priorities Project (HCEPP)
1998 Issue Assessment Summary. Cincinnati (Cinti), OH: HCEPP.
1997 Air Working Group Issue Assessment Report. Cinti, OH: HCEPP.
1997 Environmental Decision-Making and Public Participation Working Group Issue Assessment Report. Cinti, OH: HCEPP
1997 Land Working Group Issue Assessment Report. Cinti, OH: HCEPP.
1997 Water Working Group Issue Assessment Report. Cinti, OH: HCEPP.
Jones, Ken, Ed Delhagen, and Christopher Paterson
1994 Local Risk-Planning: A Review of the Seattle Environmental Priorities Project, NCCR Issue Paper No.13, South Royalton, VT: The Northeast Center for Comparative Risk.
The Ohio Comparative Risk Project (OCRP).
1995 Comparing the Risks of Ohios Environmental Conditions: Executive Summary of Ohios State of the Environment Report. Columbus, OH: OCRP.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1993 A Guidebook to Comparing Risks and Setting Environmental Priorities. Washington, DC: U.S. EPA, Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation.
Air Working Group
Air quality, both outdoor and indoor, for Hamilton County and the surrounding regions is continually improving. It meets or exceeds regulatory requirements. All sectors of the community are advocates for clean air and act to minimize pollution from agricultural, commercial, construction, indoor, industrial, residential and transportation sources.
Dedicated management of air shed has removed unacceptable health risks, improved the ecosystem, and provided for a better quality of life. Air is pleasant, free of noxious odors and visual contaminants, and poses no disproportionate health risk to any segment of the population. Neither materials nor species are adversely impacted by air contaminants. Air shed improvement proceeds hand in hand with economic development.
Environmental Decision-Making/Public Participation Working Group
Environmental decisions, now and in the future, made here and elsewhere, guarantee the health and safety of all Hamilton County people. Flourishing local ecosystems and clean air, land, and water resources are protected by laws and regulations. These are initiated by a public exchange of ideas and opinions. Rules are fair, implementable, effective and cost-efficient. Complex issues and relationships have been reduced to manageable ones. Fundamental causes have been addressed with commonsense solutions.
Decisions and resulting public policies and actions use a consensus process that includes all individuals, groups, and units of government. This process seeks early broad-based participation, two-way communication and constructive feedback. It is democratic, with all decision-makers being accessible and responsive to input from the local public. General agreements on concerns are reached by informed and knowledgeable citizens, guided by reality, based on sound science and restrained by intellectual integrity.
Hamilton County activities do not harm other communities. The benefits derived from compassionate planning and stewardship will be shared by all equally. We have subordinated self and special interest to concern for a shared living space.
Individuals have the will and decide freely to do their rightful part. They are investing in a community having a viable high quality of life. All are held accountable for making it so. They accept a moral and civic responsibility for determining its fate. A clean, safe, future neighborhood environment means striving for it every day. Our grandchildren will enjoy the benefits of our keen foresight and wise decisions.
Water Working Group
Water resources in Hamilton County and the surrounding region are continually improving in a sustainable manner. All members of the community are ever vigilant and are doing what is necessary to improve and protect water quality. They participate in a continuing, effective process for public policy and actions.
The chemical and biological composition of all waters is managed to meet the highest possible end usage. Pollutants from all sources are minimized. All drinking water is safe for human health and aesthetically pleasing (taste, appearance, odor) and abundantly available to everyone. Storm and flood waters are managed by means that enhance the environment.
Streams, wetlands, lakes, and rivers are ecologically healthy. They provide valued natural, recreational, economic, and scenic resources. The ground water throughout the region is managed to protect and sustain its purity and the natural functioning of aquifers. Together these protected and managed water resources are contributing positively to the vibrant economy and the high quality of life of the region.
Land Working Group
All actions regarding land use in Hamilton County will be taken to enhance the quality of life, with a view to their long-term local and regional effects. The foundation of these actions will be sound socio-economic, scientific, and engineering knowledge, fostering a sustainable future.
Land use balances ecological, agricultural, recreational, social, and economic needs. Soil profiles, subsoils and aquifers are maintained as living systems. Cultural and historic treasures and resources are preserved. Habitat preservation includes all biotic communities with special emphasis on native species. Scenic vistas and green spaces are conserved and enhanced. Development is accomplished using sustainable guidelines. All residents of Hamilton County communities have access to social, cultural, and recreational resources.
Waste generation is constantly being minimized. Waste disposal is safe and environmentally sound. Previously used properties, including brownfields, are being reused and revitalized to enhance community growth and prosperity. Transportation is accessible and functional, environmentally sound and energy efficient.
Natural and man-made land resources, including their infrastructure systems support growth, prosperity and sustainable communities, while minimizing urban sprawl. Environmental policy balances public and private interests.
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