Scenario Presentations

Each student must make three oral presentations focused on three of the 14 scenarios available in this section. Two students will sign up at the start of the semester for each scenario. The third presenter will be selected at the beginning of the class to speak about that day’s scenario. Students will be graded on both their answers to the assigned questions and the clarity of their presentation. Short descriptions are provided below. These presentations account for up to 30 points of your final grade.

Scenario 1: Federal environmental policy-making in the context of the scientific and political considerations behind fisheries management.

Scenario 2: The policy-making process in the renewables context and how organizations can seek to influence it.

Scenario 3: Evaluating the outcomes of environmental policies in the context of pollution control and ensuring the credibility in the eyes of the science, business, and environmental advocacy communities.

Scenario 4: Comparative policy analysis across nations in the context of food production and agriculture, how to generalize policy across nations with divergent histories, political structures, and cultures.

Scenario 5: Environmental ethics and a philosophical argument for the precautionary principle.

Scenario 6: Philosophical underpinnings of sustainable development.

Scenario 7: The best ways we can incorporate indigenous knowledge into the public policy-making process.

Scenario 8: Environmental impact assessments in the offshore wind farm context, which dimensions of “impact” should count in NEPA-mandated impact assessments?

Scenario 9: Cost benefit analysis in environmental policy-making in the context of superfund sites and pollution cleanup.

Scenario 10: The risk assessment process in policy-making: who is at risk and how do we manage these risks?

Scenario 11: Wetland loss, ecosystem services, and payment for ecosystem services schemes.

Scenario 12: How to involve the public in the policy-making process, in the context of land use planning.

Scenario 13: How to generate informed consensus over policy issues in the context of dwindling water supply in the Southwest.

Scenario 14: Environmental dispute resolution in the context of pollution control.

Federal Environmental Policy-Making

As a senior staff member toa high-ranking member of the U.S. Senate from a Northeastern state, you have been asked to help prepare an analysis of a half-dozen pending legislative proposals dealing with “threatened” fisheries in the northern Atlantic Ocean. SEveral of the proposals seek to expand the role of the federal government - legislating expanded authority to protect threatened fish stocks by banning all commercial and sports fishing until threatened stocks have recovered. These bills would empower the Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior to undertake studies and make objective determinations about which fish stocks are threatened and when it might be safe to resume fishing. Other bills seek to eliminate entirely the role of the federal government in fisheries management, allowing the market and decisions by the fishing industry to shape fisheries management policy. From the standpoint of the fishing industry, the federal government has no capacity to understand what the fishing industry already knows. Moreover, even temporary bans make it impossible for most fisherman to stay in business. Once they are out of the industry, they are not likely to return. All the pending bills have their supporters and detractors (who have come to lobby your boss).

From what you can tell, there really seem to be legitimate disagreements between and amongst marine scientists, environmental advocacy groups, fishermen’s organizations, state natural resource agencies, and industry spokespeople. Everyone claims to data that “prove” that particular fish stocks are either seriously depleted or making a surprising comeback. Each stakeholder group has its own ideas about what will and won’t help restore the industry - ranging from arguments for subsides to low-interest loans to restrictions on foreign fishing fleets. A number of groups hold the view that any costs to fishermen or the fishing industry generated by federal action ought to be fully compensated.

The Senator has asked you to sketch a list of criteria she might use in evaluating all the pending proposals. What are the most important things to consider - in political and technical terms - and what are your suggestions regarding how and why the Senator might rate or rank each factor? Obviously, the Senator is not just interested in the technical aspects of fisheries management. She is concerned about what is likely to be a tough re-election campaign two years hence. She wants to be on the “winning side” in whatever legislative battle erupts around this issues, so that her likely political opponent can’t point to her political ineffectiveness. What information should the Senator try to get out of the upcoming hearings? What information do you need to complete your analysis (and how would you go about getting that information given that you only have a couple of days to complete this assignment)?

Historically, the Senator has a pretty good environmental record. Right now, though, the economic circumstances in the region, and in her home state in particular, are so dire that the Senator is not likely to take a strong environmental stand that might be seen as ignoring the economic implications of shutting down a very important industry.

Societal Risk Assessment

The city of Boston has an active LNG (liquified natural gas) facility very close to the heart of downtown. For part of the year, huge tankers bring super-cooled natural gas several times a month right through Boston Harbor. While they are offloading and re-gasifying the supplies, they run the risk that a gas leak might be ignited by an unintended spark and cause a massive fire or catastrophic explosion. Natural gas is a crucial element of Boston’s power supply and LNG is a key component.

The state government and various regional authorities are concerned about the risks associated with transporting LNG through a busy harbor, but they feel that the risks are under control. Assume that you are in charge of Boston Harbor Associates (BHA), a not-for-profit organization committed to protecting and restoring the natural environment of Boston Harbor. The Harbor has a series of beautiful but neglected islands within close proximity of the shore and these have been BHA’s priority to date. You don’t agree that the risks associated with LNG are acceptable. You have decided that a new risk assessment needs to be prepared that will do a better job of spelling out all the risks associated with the LNG plant. One of the things that concerns you is that the previous risk assessment (done decades ago when the LNG terminal was first built) assumes that everything that can and should be done to manage risks (i.e. carefully guiding the tankers through the harbor, maintaining tight security at the terminal, testing emergency evacuation procedures, etc.) is being done. A good risk assessment doesn’t just estimate what could go wrong (and what the impacts would be if they did), it also looks closely at how well risks are being managed.

How would you make your case for a new risk assessment to the relevant state and regional agencies who have formal oversight responsibility? Who should do the risk assessment? How should you handle the issues of risk perception that are also at stake? A number of people, including many of your own members, are worried that raising the specter of the poorly managed risks associated with LNG will scare the public and turn groups against your organization. How do you propose to deal with this concern?

Ecosystem Services Analysis

The State of Oregon requires developers or landowners who remove or fill wetlands to compensate for the loss of wetlands by creating or restoring wetlands in the same watershed (ORS 196.795-990). To ensure that there is “no net loss” of wetlands, the State’s Department of State Lands, which administers the permit program has required a ratio of 1:3, meaning that for every acre of wetland that is removed or filled, 3 acres have to be restored. This law was enacted in 1967, and has been controversial ever since. Development groups and municipalities have argued it has stifled economic growth by making it almost impossible to build anywhere near water. Environmentalists have argued that simply constructing wetlands elsewhere still allows important habitat to be destroyed.

Beyond this criticism, some practical problems have also arisen as a result of this law. First of all, development pressure is significant in some parts of the state, and some watersheds are already densely populated. This makes it difficult to find places in the same watershed to create or restore wetlands to compensate for lost wetlands. Second of all, the majority of landowners are farmers or timber-companies, and they do not like the idea of losing control of their land by restoring it and then being required to keep it in that state. This unease leads to long, and very difficult negotiations between developers, landowners and the state about the exact details of how, when, and for how long a wetland has to be restored to qualify as a compensatory wetland. Finally, the overall ecological effectiveness of the “ratio-based” approach is unclear. Wetlands typically perform a variety of so-called ecosystem services, like water storage, sediment, retention, nitrate and phosphorus removal, temperature regulation, carbon sequestration and habitat for a variety of animals. Requiring three acres of wetland to be created for every acre of wetland removed provides no guarantee that those services are performed equally well by the “new” wetland.

In response to some of these problems, “mitigation banking” has developed over the last decade. Mitigation banking involves landowners turning their (farm)land into wetlands, creating a “wetland mitigation bank,” and then offering (parts of) that land as compensatory wetlands or “credits” for developers in their watershed who are seeking to obtain a permit for a proposed development.

An influential and politically connected watershed advocacy group is now proposing a new way of accounting for wetland loss and compenstation, by calculating the loss of the “ecosystem services” from the removal or filling of wetlands, and then requiring the compenstation of those “services.” This could make the removal/fill program more effective from an ecological point of view, and would potentially allow for a more efficient approach to wetland mitigation banking. The governor has heard about this initiative, and has looked at Robert Costanza’s influential paper on the value of the world’s ecosystem goods and services. Also, you understand the governor has heard about the great success of New York City’s experience with ecosystem services. Now she has asked the Department of State Lands to advise her on whether or not he should support this new initiative. Would you recommend a new wetland compenstation approach based on ecosystem services? Can the subjectivity inherent in ecological assessment be dealt with? Do you believe this initiative will help overcome the reluctance of landowners to restore wetlands?

Public Participation Techniques and Strategies

You are a consultant hired by a municipal planning agency. Your firm was selected, after a competitive bidding process, to produce the new master plan for a small city of about 60,000 that has been in decline over the past few decades. The city is racially divided, with an elderly Caucasian population and a more recent Latin American immigrant population. The elected city council includes mostly conservative white businessmen and a very outspoken (and Republican) young African-American real estate developer. The city is located along a fairly large river that has been polluted by a badly designed regional wastewater treatment system, a now defunct industrial plant - that is an un-remediated Superfund site - and the run-off from a range of large-scale agricultural activities upstream. Unless and until the river is cleaned up, downtown redevelopment and new investment along the river’s edge is unlikely.

The city planning department has been told to produce a new master plan (the old one is almost 15 years out of date). The city council wants a plan that will ensure long-term economic growth and short-term pollution reduction. The only way to encourage new economic investment is to convince people that the greening of the city and a new sustainable pattern of investment will attract additional residents with money to spend.

What kind of public participation strategy will your firm recommend as part of the new master planning effort? In general, there is no tradition of public participation in the city. Assume you have a budget of $50,000 to support whatever public involvement activities you choose. What techniques will best help to educate and involve all the segments and factions in the city? HOw will you justify your public engagement strategy to a skeptical city council?

Regional Consensus Building

You are the executive director of a metropolitan planning agency in the Southwest. Your board includes most of the chief elected officials of the cities and towns in the region along with the heads of numerous stakeholder groups. Growth has mushroomed over the past two decades, although the recent economic slowdown has brought new development to a halt. There is some hope that housing development will pick up, especially on the rural fringe. Open space has been eaten up at a frightening rate. Of even greater concern, water supplies are clearly insufficient to sustain another round of development given the demands for water from the industrial, residential, agricultural, and conservation “sectors.” Battles over water allocations and investment in new water supplies are likely to tear communities apart. Your board has attached top priority to formulating a regional water strategy that balances the demands and interests of all the competing groups.

You have identified a senior staff member to facilitate this effort. With the board’s approval you have appointed a 12-member blue ribbon advisory group to formulate a regional water strategy. You are pretty sure you have the money you need to staff a 12-18 month effort. You assume that the Advisory Group will tap appropriate (volunteer) academic and industry experts from extreme environmental and industry groups (which were purposefully left off the Advisory Group) will try to sabotage the effort. You are also worried that the state government will try to undermine what you are trying to do. The state doesn’t think very highly of regional planning, preferring to do everything on a state-wide basis.

Finally, the major newspaper in the region has already ridiculed the idea of a regional water strategy, arguing that senior water rights are held by those who have always held them (by law), and nothing can be done to change that. They also point out that your agency is powerless to do anything about the economic forces at work.

What strategy will you urge the Advisory Group and your staff director to follow? What, if anything, can they do to generate an informed regional consensus that will have the political backing needed to make a difference?

If you want to advocate some kind of “Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee,” how would you suggest it be structured? If not, what other public engagement/public education technique would you use?

Environmental Dispute Resolution

You work for the Chemical Manufacturer’s Association of America. This is a trade association dedicated to educating the public about the important contributions that your member companies make to the economy and to the quality of everyday life. CMA has decided to expand its environmental staff to demonstrate the CMA is concerned about sustainability and environmental quality. You took them at their word when you decided to join the staff several years ago.

Computer chip manufacturing plants are facing increased local opposition to expansion. Even though you are convinced that these plants do what is necessary to protect abutters from the dangers associated with water pollution or air pollution caused by leaks from the plant, you have been unable to generate anything that is taken seriously by your critics and opponents. It is true that there could be a fire at a plant and that the impacts of such an accident could be serious. But the same is true of almost any manufacturing facility. CMA members have adopted a Good Neighbor Pledge indicating their promise to minimize the risks of pollution and to accept full responsibility for any adverse impacts their facilities might cause.

The latest battle in the Southwest is between America’s largest chip-making company and a group of environmentalists who have decided to take a stand against the proposed expansion of a plant that has been in place for more than two decades. The opponents claim to have evidence that shows an abnormally high rate of certain cancers in the area around the plant. While they might be correct, there is nothing to tie the incidence of cancer to what’s going on at the plant.

The leaders of CMA have asked you to formulate a plan for meeting with and working out differences with the critics of this site. You know that all eyes nationally will be on what happens. So, you need to think in terms of a pilot process that could be repeated at many other sites. How do you propose to tackle this conflict in a way that might lead to workable agreement to proceed with expansion of the plant? What principles would you use to guide the design of a dispute resolution process given that the conflict involves groups with radically different values and perhaps a range of hidden agendas?

The Policy-Making Process

You are the Washington lobbyist for an environmental organization called The Renewable Energy Coalition (REC). Your board includes the heads of 10 major environmental NGOs, several oil company executives, a half-dozen well-known university professors, and the leaders of several coalitions devoted to solar energy, wind energy, alternative fuels, and green technology innovation.

The REC is convinced that the federal government has got to do more to encourage investment in and support for renewable energy production in the United States. Everyone on your Board agrees that federal tax credits for investments in renewable energy production should be increased. Beyond that, the group is split. Some want the federal government to commit billions of dollars to subsidize both the production and the distribution of renewable energy as part of America’s new climate change legislation. Others want huge investments in R & D. Others favor targeting and protecting specific renewable energy sources in various ways, although they don’t agree on whether solar, terrestrial wind, off-shore wind, biomass, low head hydro, and even nuclear should be singled out. A few members feel that existing state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are the way to go - leaving key decisions to the states.

You have been asked by the Board to propose a stategy by which the REC can gain the greatest possible leverage over federal policy-making on this issue. Can you produce a simple diagram indicating how the Board ought to think about the policy-making process with regard to renewable energy (whether in the context of the current climate change legislative debate or in terms of stand-alone legislation)? What are the sources of leverage or influence that a group like the REC might hope to employ? What are the most important moves the REC can make to increase its influence over federal policy-making on renewable energy?

Note: there is no video for Scenario 2.

Policy Evaluation

You are a senior policy analyst on the staff of the Secretary of the Interior’s office. Your academic background includes a master’s degree in planning (with an environmental policy specialization) and a PhD in applied microeconomics. You have been asked to review a series of studies produced by the conservative Heritage Society that argue quite strenuously that command-and-control policies that were used to protect air quality, water quality, and endangered species for several decades are no longer needed. Now that we understand how these systems work and have internalized the need for pollution control and the protection of biodiversity, it is no longer necessary for the federal or state government to do more than emphasize these objectives through “soft” policy statements and educational programs. According to the Heritage Society, we certainly don’t need the national government settinga nd enforcing detailed standards (including technological specifications of various kinds). This just locks us into outmoded technologies, inhibits innovation, and applies a “one-size-fits-all” mentality when what we need is to “let a thousand flowers bloom.” The Secretary is not convinced. He wants you to sketch a major national study that would rebut what the Heritage Society is saying.

  1. How should such a study be organized? Who should be asked to do it? (Assume that the agency has upwards of $2 million to spend).
  2. What are the most important criteria and methods to use in preparing such a policy evaluation?
  3. Given that the Secretary has already indicated to you that he doesn’t buy waht the Heritage Society is saying, how should that factor into the design and implementation of the study?
  4. Please list the steps you would take to ensure the credibility of the study in the eyes of the scientific community, the environmental advocacy community, the business community, and Congress.
  5. Is it appropriate to begin a policy evaluation with an outcome in mind?

Comparative Policy Analysis

The Europeans, the Japanese, and the Australians have taken different approaches from the United States in their efforts to protect agricultural land and ensure the quality of food production. Obviously, the histories and culture of each country play a key role in shaping national policy. Assume you are the director of a not-for-profit institute that is focused on the preservationa nd expansion of agricultural production in the United States. Yor won background includes growing up in the mid-west in a farming community, a graduate degree in agricultural science, ten years of experience managing a large agro-business, and a five-year stint living and working in Germany with their Ministry of Agriculture. Your board of directors includes a wide range of well-known industry, academic, and NGO leaders. They are distressed that the United States is not doing nearly enough to protect farmland, particularly in rapidly developing areas of the Northwest, the West and the Southeast. They want you to take a close look and see what the U.S. ought to learn form the experiences of the EU, Japan, and Australia.

They will fund you to make separate two-week trips to each of those three parts of the world. You can bring along one of your senior staff members. Obviously, you can collect any information you need before you go.

  1. Who do you want to see in each country and what do you want to try to find out?
  2. What problems do you anticipate with regard to making sense of what you are told and what you observe?
  3. What problems do you anticipate with regard to generalizing across your findings from the other regions of the world? Your board expects you to enumerate the opportunities for and the obstacles to cross-contextual learning.
  4. To what extent do you think that your findings will reveal ideas and strategies that will be helpful in the United States? What makes you think so?
  5. How ought you to deal with the skeptics on your board who feel that the laws, customs, regulations, ecosystems, and political systems in each country are too different for anything useful to come of a comparative analysis?

The Precautionary Principle

Assume you have been hired as a staff member at a new non-partisan Center for Environmental Ethics and Public Policy that is well funded with aprivate endowment from a not-very-well-know philanthropist. You’ve been hired because you have a background in political philosophy and environmental ethics, and because you have some experience in the environmental planning and policy-making world.

The leadership of the Center, including the founder (who made his money as the manager of a giant hedge fund), wants you to put together a report making the case for greater reliance on the precautionary principle as the basis for environmental policy-making. Recent published work by Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein and others have raised doubts about the viability of the precautionary principle. (Google Cass Sunstein and precautionary principle, and look at his Boston Globe op-ed on the subject).

The reason the leadership of the Center likes the precautionary principle is because it appears to offer a pragmatic approach to environmental protection. It basically argues that it makes sense to act as if the worst case might occur and we shouldn’t wait until scientific certainty has been established, by which time it might be too late to save a dwindling or irreplaceable resource.

What they want you to do is outline a philosophical argument for the precautionary principle that draws on both utilitarian ideals as well as the core beliefs of deep ecology. Based on what you have read by Des Jardins, do your best to lay out the case they are looking for.

Sustainability vs. Economic Development

Assume you work for the new office of Sustainable Development at the World Bank. The Bank has been criticized in the past for failing to pay sufficient attention to environmental considerations in its grant-making and investment decisions in the developing world. The governing board of the bank has made it clear that the Bank still remains committed to the goal of economic development. Some external critics argue that environmental protection and economic development are incompatible and either one objective or the other must be compromised. There are other critics, however, who don’t buy that. Herman Daly has spelled out an important distinction between economic growth and economic development, arguing that sustainable development and economic development are not incompatible.

The new office needs to justify, in philosophical terms, its commitment to both sustainability and economic development. Prepare a brief presentation explaining what the office means by sustainable development as it relates to global investment in a wide range of projects in the poorest of the poor countries. Discuss the distinction between economic growth and economic development. Lay out in broad philosophical brushstrokes the reasons that the World Bank ought to put a premium on investments that promote sustainable development. Indicate the reasons that economic growth is less important than economic development and explain why the Bank ought to take environmental protection seriously.

Local Knowledge vs. Expert Knowledge

With the proposed revitalization of the nuclear power industry under discussion in the United States, there may well be pressure for renewed uranium production. It seems like the climate change debate has emboldened nuclear power advocates. One of the sites at which uranium was mined years ago is in Navajo Nation in Arizona. There are hints that various corporations want to renew that activity.

Anyone who has spent time in Navajo Nation has heard stories about the disastrous impacts of uranium mining on workers who helped to dig uranium out of open pits (sometimes with their bare hands). Because appropriate safeguards were not enforced and workers tracked yellowcake back into their homes every night, cancer rates among these workers were extraordinarily high. A great many families lost loved ones. What these families would consider adequate compensation has never been paid. The federal government has not accepted responsibility for the illnesses and deaths experienced by tribal members involved in the uranium industry. Even after the mining sites were shut down, the federal government and the corporations involved did not cap the sites properly. Polluted water supplies, blowing airborne dust, and animals and children wandering through these unprotected sites continue to pose unacceptable risks.

Assume you work for the Navajo Environmental Agency. You want to be sure that “local knowledge” about the adverse effects of uranium mining in Navajo Nation is given serious consideration when and if the U.S. government or its industry partners tries to revive uranium mining. How would you go about capturing this knowledge and ensuring that it is taken seriously? Undoubtedly, you will be up against public health and other experts who will claim that the adverse impacts of uranium mining were minimal, or if they did occur it was only because the proper rules and regulations were ignored. What is your “theory” about the best ways to incorporate indigenous knowledge into public policymaking?

Environmental Impact Assessment

The Regional Office of the United States Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the corporate proponent of a proposed off-shore wind farm. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is the lead agency on this issue specified by recent national energy legislation, but the EPA’s comments on the draft will be taken seriously. The EPA’s concerns have to do with the adequacy of the options chosen for study, the appropriateness of the weighting and scaling of the measures of impact that were used, and what appears to be a failure to adequately discuss all possible mitigation measures. You are one of the most knowledgeable and experienced staff members in the regional office. You have worked on a great many EIAs and served on several task forces over the years that have attempted to modify the way that the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented. It seems that every time there is a new administration in Washington, another effort is made to refine the purpose and alter the operations of the NEPA process.

In this particular case, you notice that the options studied vary only in terms of the number and location of the turbines. True, there is a no-build option included, but it troubles you that they have ignored other non-renewable options for producing electricity to meet the same needs. While they have looked at the likely impacts of the proposed turbines on birds, fish and whales, they haven’t looked at the air pollution impacts of the additional coal or gas-fired power plants that will have to be built if the wind energy project doesn’t go forward. There seems to be no attention paid to the ways in which the adverse impacts of wind power on birds, fish, whales, or navigation might be mitigated. It is true that NEPA doesn’t specify how many options must be studied (and how different they need to be). And, it is not obvious which dimensions of impact must be emphasized.

How would you go about making the argument that the number of options studied is insufficient, the range of impacts studied is too limited and that means all of mitigation should be given attention. Everything you are rpoposing would cost more money and take more time. How can you justify the costs associated with increasing the scope of this assessment in this period of budget cuts? There is no precedent for how this EIA should proceed since few if any EIS’s have been completed for offshore wind projects (anywhere in the world).

Cost-Benefit Analysis

You are on the governor’s personal staff. You are there because you have superb credentials as a policy analyst, including a joint PhD in environmental planning and resource economics.

There is a controversy over the long-delayed clean-up of a highly polluted Superfund site. At one time, there was a foundry at an inner suburban site. Long-abandoned underground storage tanks at the site leaked into nearby wetlands. No one disputes that. While there are few residential neighbors who have been adversely affected, the city is eager to reuse the site for a new mall. Efforts have been made to pin financial responsibility for the clean-up (Which is likely to cost $35 million or more) on various successor corporations, but this strategy has failed. The company that ran the foundry went out of business and there are not even any clients of the foundry around anymore who can be held accountable for the cost of the cleanup. The state government has no funds to pay for the cleanup beyond the $3 million it spent more than a decade ago to cap the site and sequester the polluted water and soil.

The town government that is trying to push forward with plans for a new mall wants the state (or the federal government) to fund an arterial road linking the cleaned-up site to the nearby interstate. This would make the mall more accessible, and perhaps justify additional state or federal investment in the clean up.

The governor is getting pressure from many sides. Her transportation agency thinks the mall developer should pay for the cleanup and the new road. Her Secretary of Environment thinks that the cleanup is a good idea, but is not prepared to specify what share of the cost should be borne by the state. Environmental groups charge that there are rpobably long-term health effects experienced by water users in the area that might be caused by dangerous materials buried at the site leaching into nearby aquifers. Local officials argue that the economic benefits of the redevelopment of the site will be shared by the region as a whole, so it is not unreasonable to ask the state to cover the cost of the clean up.

The governor has asked you to outline a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that can be done to help answer all these questions. How should benefits and costs in this case be defined? What, in your view, are the most important costs and benefits to focus on in the study? What should be the time frame and the geographic scope of the study? How should the governor handle the question of the inequitable distribution of benefits and costs associated with re-use of the site?

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Other Video
Presentation Assignments with Examples