Decision-making and Valuation for Environmental Policy

D ecision-making and valuation for environmental policy requires improving decision-making and understanding diverse values in environmental policy and related public issues. This is required to enable advances in valuing environmental quality and economic growth and in improving environmental decision-making. Theoretical and empirical research in mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, and environmental ethics provides a number of useful frameworks and tools for organizing information on the economic and social influences on, and consequences of, alternative environmental policies. Benefit-cost analysis, multi-criteria decision analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, and consensus modeling represent well-known approaches in environmental decision-making.

There is a need to support research that advances the scientific basis of valuation and decision analysis as it contributes to the formulation and evaluation of environmental policy. The lack of generally accepted methods for identifying and/or valuing many important economic, environmental and social benefits, costs, and interactions limits the use of decision-analytic frameworks, particularly for community based environmental problems and issues dealing with ecosystem variability. We need to address key theoretical, empirical and methodological needs associated with the development and use of these frameworks.

Organizations and institutions responsible for policy analysis, regulatory decision-making, priority setting for environmental actions, and assessment have an interest in advancing research to help develop practical, systematic and credible approaches to identifying economic, environmental and social interactions, estimating their benefits and costs, and improving decision-making about environmental issues.

Innovations and Improvements in
Environmental Decision Making

A. Methodological Innovations and Improvement

Developing acceptable and efficacious environmental policy requires improvement of the assumptions, concepts, and methods in relevant research and implementation. It requires continuing refinement of accepted approaches to environmental decision?making, as well as exploration of innovative alternative methodologies for accomplishing policy goals, especially in the areas of pollution prevention and sustainable development. Research on innovative approaches to environmental decision?making and on refinement of existing approaches is expected to be theoretically and methodologically sophisticated and to contain an empirical component. Some of the issues involved include:

  • Developing alternative approaches to environmental decision making (including those focused on decision?making as a negotiation process, or use of decision analytic approaches) and comparative analysis and assessment of the effectiveness of different models of environmental decision making.
  • Improving methods of assessment (including social impact analysis) and cost/benefit analysis considering consequences of delayed resolution of uncertainty, the public goods aspects of environmental amenities, and the conflicting objectives of groups impacted by regulation.
  • Improvements in methods for accurately and consistently evaluating consequences of various regulatory and non?regulatory options, and making tradeoffs between gains occurring through different environmental policy interventions.
  • Development and analysis of tools to identify and assess non?monetary values and value systems affected by and affecting environmental change.

B. Advances in Understanding Values and Perceptions Relevant in Environmental Decision-making

Public concern over environmental resources and degradation is at an all time high, but public mistrust and misunderstanding of environmental risk assessment and decision-making is also very high. Many risk managers are also bewildered by the complexities and uncertainties in the assessment and decision making process. Research has provided information about the factors that affect the development and use of environmental policy: psychological attitudes; socio?cultural, legal, and ethical norms; economic forces; and politics and the media. Better understanding of these factors and the role they play in social negotiations about environmental issues is needed. This area encourages research to identify and examine behavioral, social and institutional factors that influence the development, implementation, acceptance, and evaluation of environmental policies. Some of the key issues in understanding values and perceptions include:

  • Advances in understanding how perceptions of environmental problems and solutions and approaches to their resolution differ across individuals and groups within society.
  • Examination of how framing of issues and means of communicating information influence attitudes toward environmental problems and solutions; and how differences in the way individuals and groups discount future events impact attitudes toward environmental problems and solutions.
  • Identification and analysis of ethical factors relevant to environmental problem?solving, and their similarities and differences in different groups, communities, countries or geographical regions. Examination of adjudication of norms when policies must cross national boundaries; identification of mechanisms that are effective in addressing transjurisdictional problems.
  • Identification and analysis of cultural, inter?organizational and interpersonal values that can impede or improve the establishment, implementation and evaluation of environmental policies and regulations.

C. Procedural Innovations and Improvements in Environmental Decision-making

Government, business and industry, and citizens have an interest in expediting the consideration and enactment of environmental policies and regulations. They have an interest in understanding what factors constrain or limit effective implementation of environmental policies (both regulatory and voluntary policies and programs) and how these constraints might be eliminated or minimized through changes in the decisionmaking process. Besides the need for improvement in understanding of the role of values in environmental decision?making, cost?effective ways by which to foster communication, resolve issues and implement new programs are needed. This component identifies several areas where research could assist decision?makers and communities to address these needs. Some of the key issues in procedural innovations and improvements include:

  • Assessment of economic and social incentives for pollution prevention by industry and government.
  • Examination of the wide variety of social constraints on the environmental decision making process that may impede implementation of sound environmental policy or environmental justice especially in the areas of pollution prevention and sustainable development; development of options to overcome these impediments.
  • Development and assessment of effective methods for tailoring environmental policy procedures to account for characteristics of the primary group(s) (e.g., large corporations or concentrated industries versus small business versus the public) impacted by potential regulation.
  • Identification and assessment of options by which to address the implications of cognitive and non?cognitive factors in development and implementation of environmental policies.
  • Analysis of factors affecting democratic processes and community or public participation in environmental decision making.
Source: Summarized from EPA/NSF Star Partnership for Environmental Research
   Environmental Decision-Making