Monday, January 17, 2011

funny passage from conference report on performance measures

For example, a transit project is sold or marketed to a decision-making group. The proponents say, "We have great fare box recovery ratio, unlinked passengers, etc." After the transit advocate goes out, the highway advocate comes in and says, "My VC ratio is going to go from .95 to .85, and my average speed is going to go from 35 to 37." That person leaves the room, and the decision makers sit together and say, "We don’t understand what these guys are talking about. It is very difficult to compare these two. So we are going to go with whomever we feel lobbied harder and seemed more sincere."

Friday, January 14, 2011

environmental justice and public participation

There's a new issue of Environmental Justice out that focuses on public participation. In it, there's an article by Neenah Estrella-Luna that analyzes the law structuring public participation in environmental review in Massachusetts. It's a nice piece, but doesn't go far enough (although the articles in this journal are quite short, so don't really allow the type of incisive, nuanced analysis required [IMO] for EJ work).

The article focuses on public participation in environmental permitting. The permitting decision is usually binary - either the facility gets permitted or it does not. She's specifically interested in the tradeoff between the interests of the permit applicant (or proponent) and the public-at-large. Who is more influential on the final decision?

But what is the appropriate way to measure influence when something either happens or it does not? It seems like the discussion of public participation in EJ misses this point - what would we judge as good public participation? How do we operationalize influence when a decision is binary? How many facilities should be permitted, and how many not for it to be considered just? Where does the facility go if not in the EJ community? Will it simply go to a rich neighborhood? to China? is either just?

Rather than arguing about individual permitting decisions, EJ should embrace its criticism of consumer capitalism and take it to its logical conclusions (a la Bedford). Seen in this light, the idea that harmful facilities should be placed in any community is unjust and we begin to see the nature of production and consumption as problematic. Environmental injustice is a symptom, the cure is not amelioration but something much more radical.