Public Participation in the Environmental Remediation of Former Military Bases

EPA Grant Number: FP917378
Title: Public Participation in the Environmental Remediation of Former Military Bases
Investigators: Ohayon, Jennifer L
Institution: University of California - Santa Cruz
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Emerging Environmental Approaches and Challenges: Social Sciences


Many closed military installations are listed among the Nation’s worst hazardous waste sites and incorporating meaningful public participation into decisions on environmental remediation is a key goal for several government agencies. This research project analyzes the relationship between different approaches to public participation programs and the production of scientific information and restoration outcomes in former military sites. As the implementation of participation programs has had mixed results, the project also examines factors that can contribute to gaps between policy promise and policy performance.


This research employs several case studies of former military sites in California on the federal National Priority List (NPL), which includes the Nation’s most polluted sites. The project uses a range of qualitative methods, including close textual and contextual analysis of archival research, indepth interviews and participant observation, to assess different approaches to public engagement in environmental remediation decisions. Public participation strategies include citizen advisory committees, public hearings and workshops, and funding for communities to hire independent experts for scientific consultation. Interviewees encompass key scientific and technical professionals, community-based actors and representatives from government agencies overseeing or responsible for cleanup and restoration.

Expected Results:

Findings from this research will identify barriers to public engagement in science policy on environmental remediation. This research will indicate how different participation programs influence the accessibility of scientific information for communities, with respect to both the availability of comprehensive and timely information and citizens’ ability to interpret scientific and technical documents. Research findings will provide valuable insights for facilitating communication between communities and government agencies, addressing conflicts over the nature and type of scientific information and practice, and assessing how participation programs can be structured to increase opportunities for citizen knowledge and preferences to be incorporated in environmental decision-making.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

EPA estimates that there are approximately half a million contaminated sites nationwide and has broadly implemented public participation programs. From studying a diverse group of stakeholders and participatory approaches, this project will develop recommendations for increasing the capacity for community-level input into decision-making, including for cases where conflicts over remedial activities and environmental justice issues are prominent. The project focuses on an area where communities have traditionally been most excluded, on issues traditionally seen as primarily scientific-technical concerns, with the aim of furthering applied policy practices and enriching the research in participatory science policy.

Supplemental Keywords:

environmental decision making, public participation, environmental justice, risk assessment, restoration, environmental remediation

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final