Embracing a Civic Republican Tradition in Natural Resources Decision-making

Posted: Sep 29, 2010
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An article by Professor Mark Squillace, University of Colorado, Natural Resources Law Center

Embracing a Civic Republican Tradition in Natural Resources Decision-makingPublic participation processes in agency decision-making are commonplace today and they consume substantial portions of agency resources. But agencies often struggle to design processes that meaningfully engage the public. The lack of meaningful engagement is often excused as the fault of the other side. The agency faults the public for comments that lack specificity or that fail to account for the factual and legal constraints underlying the proposal, and the public faults the agency for ignoring its comments or failing to take them into account in making it final decision. Public frustrations with agency process often exacerbate public disenchantment with agency decisions. 

This paper offers a prescription for making public processes more meaningful in the context of policy decisions impacting natural resources. It begins by tracing the history of public participation in government action. It then reviews the arguments that support public participation, as well as several reasons that may counsel against it. Participation processes will surely endure, but a better appreciation of the challenges that participation processes present can help agencies tailor their processes to be more meaningful. 

The chapter then analyzes the theoretical foundations for public participation, concluding that the civic republican tradition offers the only viable approach for meaningfully engaging the public in natural resources decision-making. Various modes of participation are then evaluated in light of the civic republican model, with suggestions for modifying these processes to enhance their utility in engaging the pubic. Finally, the chapter discusses some of the ongoing problems with current public processes and suggests possible reforms.

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