Environmental Protection Policy – Who is Responsible?

Balancing Policy and Programs
We operate in a world with diverse levels of environmental protection policy. They vary from world-wide agreements down to local regulations and there seems to be no shortage. Policies that aim to control pollution and manage waste streams are very complicated. They apply to both public and private business and industry. Policymakers must aim to balance economic vitality, social acceptance and environmental impacts.

In the end, each and every one of us is responsible for remaining environmentally conscious in our daily lives; at work and at home. In local government, we must be aware of the opportunity we possess to help create a healthy future for us, our community members and the environment that sustains us.

What can we do?

In short, a lot.

At the local government level, there is an opportunity to share our burden of the responsibility. For example, we can plan transportation routes that encourage bicycling and walking. In addition, can structure public transit so fewer cars are traveling on the roads. These multi-modal plans can also include electric technology. Even reserving green space for urban agriculture and food forest initiatives reduces pollution by decreasing fuel used for shipping in food.

Other things like strong urban forestry programs, green way corridors and engaging education and outreach efforts are important. Communicating that our green spaces directly impact our quality of life can be an effective tool to promote these practices. Other plans, including robust recycling and composting programs, can remove tons of debris from ever-growing landfills.

Not all programs will be inspirational, however. For instance, infiltration and inflow removal from sanitary sewers, illicit discharge detection and elimination and street sweeping. These are all programs that may be necessary to comply with federal or state environmental policy, but can be bolstered on a local level. Utilizing methane emissions from waste water treatment plants may not be an exciting topic for some, but is still impactful.

Decisions that are made in regard to policy initiatives often have a direct influence on our environment. Because of this, it is imperative for the health of our cities and communities that environmental impacts remain a part of the discussion.

Move Away from Silos
The once popular approach to policy development from within siloed structures still contributes to lingering problems. These could include inadequate fees to support operations and maintenance or result in social inequities. Other examples include antiquated zoning models that primarily promote sprawling growth. Some prohibit alternative methods of growth and thereby produce ill environmental effects. Utilizing an approach that reaches across departments and out of the government structure is important. As part of an integrated policy development (or redevelopment) process, there is no other option than to move away from the silo method.

Use an Integrative Approach
With different end goals and budgets stretched thin every year, communication is key. City departments must holistically incorporate environmental protections into an integrated planning and management strategy to be effective. To start, support and buy-in from all stakeholders must be obtained.

Balancing capital improvement projects that include wastewater treatment plant upgrades, transportation infrastructure, forestry, fiber networks, comprehensive plans and much, much more is difficult. As a result of this, it may be easy for program managers and policy developers to lose sight of some pieces of the puzzle. Promoting shared interests from within the government and the community is a good way to start.

You may also find this reading interesting:

Vig, Norman J, and Michael E Kraft. Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century. 9th ed., Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, Inc. 2016.

Amy Kay is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has worked in municipal stormwater management for 10 years and has served as the Clean Water Manager with the City of Davenport since 2016. Here, she directs the resource conservation and watershed management programs along with activities of the Clean Water Program in compliance with NPDES and MS4 permits. You can read her posts here.

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Isaac Constans

I feel like we always put the environment second when really it needs to be thought of on the front end. Having that holistic plan you talked about is so important, because if government is working to eliminate carbon emissions from factories but promoting urban sprawl, then those contradictory policies might not amount to all that much. Great post.