Katherine Buckingham (MCP ’13) shows how one state—Massachusetts—has taken the lead in restoring contaminated sites through legal and policy reform. Massachusetts has modified the federal system of superfund liability to encourage potential brownfield developers to purchase and rehabilitate properties. More significantly, interagency cooperation provided through the Brownfield Support Team initiative (BST) has made it easier to deal with regulatory requirements.
The situation is familiar to many planners: a broad set of angry stakeholders with wildly divergent worldviews, a deeply personal and political problem with no clear definition or boundary, and limited options regarding a way forward. These are called “wicked” problems, and this is a scenario that dispute resolution practitioners have few ways of handling.
In her thesis, Carri Hulet (MCP ’13) describes a new tool to add to the facilitator’s repertoire. Called a “devising seminar”, the concept is built around the idea of gathering a small group of stakeholders to brainstorm how they proceed without any immediate pressure to commit to a specific set of recommendations.
Carri details the experience that she and a team of university researchers had in applying this method in the case of a Chilean hydropower conflict. In the context of an intense dispute between Chilean government officials, project developers, environmental representatives and indigenous communities likely to be adversely affected by development, the team turned to a devising seminar to generate new policy ideas and a better understanding of the sources of their disagreement.
The Chilean experiment met with mixed results, but demonstrated the utility of devising seminars as a tool for promoting public policy dialogue among long-time adversaries. Carri lays out the crucial elements, major obstacles, and key recommendations regarding the use of devising seminars, which can be found in her thesis.
The acequias of New Mexico offer a valuable approach to conserving shared water resources. Since colonial times, farmers in the area have worked together to operate and maintain a shared irrigation network, with community-elected managers ensuring that the water continues to flow and that it is share
d equitably in times of scarcity. Acequias demonstrate the effectiveness of community-based approaches to resource management.
But as Brian Daly (MCP 2013) shows in his thesis, New Mexico’s acequias are now at risk. The state’s water rights law, which encourages farmers to put their own needs above the community’s and encourages a “use it or lose it” mentality, threatens to undermine the long-term survival of the acequias. Fortunately, the state legislature has given acequias a means to prevent the sale of water rights to urban developers and create water banks that ensure unused water claims aren’t taken away from the community.
Brian finds that advocacy organizations have been effective in educating acequias about their rights and helping them adopt bylaws needed to take full advantage of new state laws. However, he also finds that more outreach is needed to inform all rural acequias about their rights, and to build their internal capacity to establish water banks. Read more about the acequias ‘approach to communal water rights in Brian’s thesis, here.
In 1993, Miami-Dade County was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to adopt a plan for climate change. A crucial leg of this plan
was to reduce vehicles miles traveled (VMT) through comprehensive land use management and improved mass transit. Evaluating the plan 15 years later, Haley Peckett (MCP 2009) found that a poorly structured system of political incentives had instead led to a substantial increase in VMT, and set out to examine the root causes of this failure.
Haley attributes much of the blame for poor land-use management with the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, a group torn across racial and ethnic lines and accountable only to their individual districts and constituencies. Following through on the county’s ambitious land use management plan would require commissioners to “hold the line” against voters and advocate groups unhappy with some negative effects of land use management and transit expansion, such as tax increases and limited availability of developable land for affordable housing.
However, with nobody in the decision-making process empowered to adopt a comprehensive perspective on what is best for the county as a whole, Haley describes how commissioners have time and again compromised the county’s long-term vision for smart growth in the sake of short-term political wins for their constituents. If Miami-Dade is to successfully implement a land-use management plan, she notes, it will have to adopt a longer view on policy outcomes and allow an independent entity with a broader view on the effects of land use to play a serious role in the policy formation process.
Read more about the battle over land use policy in Miami-Dade County in Haley’s thesis.
Multifamily building residents—renters in particular—often fall through the cracks of traditional energy efficiency offerings. Building residents rarely have the ability or long-term incentive to pay for energy upgrades in their homes, and building owners have little motivation to reduce energy costs borne by residents. Standard utility energy efficiency programs—which rely mainly on financial incentives to encourage participation—have had little impact in encouraging efficiency.
Last spring, a group of DUSP graduate students devised a new model for multifamily energy efficiency in a practicum course led by Professors Harvey Michaels and Larry Susskind. The students proposed a solution that was based in equal parts on the use of non-financial incentives to encourage participation through a engaged city-scale implementer and community-based social marketing techniques, and the better use of building and energy consumption data to identify and target areas for potential efficiency improvements. By orienting program offerings around the social networks of communities and leveraging the energy data sources available to implementers, this model could unlock energy efficiency savings that have previously been off-limits to program administrators.
As a result of this effort, NSTAR and the City of Cambridge are working with MIT to scope out a pilot energy efficiency program in Cambridge that takes into account the added complexity of the multifamily sector. Read the group’s report here.
By all appearances, we are living in an increasingly resource-constrained world. This is particularly true of water, which promises to be a continuing source of conflict among nations and water users of various kinds. But is it possible to forge a new way of thinking about water, one that looks at water rights as an opportunity for mutual gain rather than as a zero-sum competition?
In our new book, Water Diplomacy: A Negotiated Approach to Managing Complex Water Networks, Shafiqul Islam and I propose a new framework for managing water resources that emphasizes negotiation and collaborative decision-making. We note that the dominant model for managing water rights—a systems-based approach that determines optimal managements strategies through quantitative means—is increasingly inadequate for dealing with the messy interactions between science and policy. Instead, the complexity of water management demands a negotiated approached that accounts for the practical difficulties of responding to natural, social, and political considerations simultaneously.
In suggesting this, we step outside the traditional way of thinking about water rights, a zero-sum competition steeped in game theory where hostile actors vie over a limited resource. Instead, we suggest that water be treated as a flexible and frequently noncompetitive resource, and that it be managed through a collaborative process that aims to achieve mutual gains for all parties involved.
Water Diplomacy lays out this new method of water management, and includes an analysis of water management theory to date as well as a model role-play simulation intended to educate readers and stakeholders about the Water Diplomacy Framework. It is available through Routledge and Resources for the Future Press.
Water is in short supply in Jordan. To meet the needs of an increasingly modern country, the nation’s leaders must be judicious in how they allocate their water resources for various uses. Due to international pressure, the Jordanian government has trended lately towards corporatization in the water services sector, and it has given private partners substantial responsibility in managing its water supply. But with the great difficulty of regulating a newly liberalized sector, how have Jordan’s water resources fared?
In her dissertation, Nancy Odeh (PhD ‘09) looked at various manifestations of public-private partnerships in the Jordanian water
sector. She found that the effectiveness of private firms—measured both by the quality, sustainability, and efficiency of the water supply as well as the affordability of the new contractual arrangements—was a direct result of the configuration of the organizational and legal context in which the partnership was formed.
Nancy found that Jordanian authorities had erred in several ways when decentralizing their water management system. For example, while contracts tended to be rigid and stifling in urban areas, rural partners were given too much discretion and weren’t held accountable to performance standards. The difficulty in determining an appropriate method of regulation was enhanced by an entrenched system of patronage within Jordanian government.
Nancy suggested best practices for the country to adopt in managing its water supply. These include forming contracts that clearly define targets for private partners, consistently including partners in decision-making and information-sharing processes, and fortifying the legal structures that hold private water suppliers accountable to consumers. To effectively liberalize its water sector, Jordan must build a regulatory system that motivates private actors to work in the public interest. Read more about Nancy’s work and her recommendations in her dissertation.
In the 1970s, an environmental awakening spread through American society and resulted in much of the landmark legislation – the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and many others – that define our current system of environmental regulation. While additional protections have been added, much of environmentalists’ struggle in the decades since has been focused on maintaining this high-water mark and ensuring that regulations are implemented in an environmentally protective fashion. But as Professor Layzer details in her book, Open for Business: Conservatives’ Opposition to Environmental Regulations, American environmental protections have been the target of a decades-long assault that threatens to drastically reduce their effectiveness.
A conservative, anti-regulatory movement has grown dramatically in response to the implementation of environmental laws. Opponents of environmentalism, fearing the effect of regulation on business and the economy, and distrusting the Federal government, have slowly build a case against environmental protection. While they have not overturned any major pieces of environmental legislation, they have been very effective in influencing the way regulators exercise discretion in implementing environmental rules. Perhaps more significantly, they have made environmentalism a controversial issue and shifted the popular image of the Federal government from one of protector against industrial excesses to a heavy-handed opponent of private enterprise.
Professor Layzer’s book details the growth of the conservative anti-regulator movement over the course of the past few decades, and illustrates many of the tactics and actors involved in provoking the backlash against environmentalism, both at the elite and grassroots level. Open for Business is available through the MIT Press.