Implications for policy related to the methodology used by US government agencies to conduct ecological risk assessments

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Title: Implications for policy related to the methodology used by US government agencies to conduct ecological risk assessments
Author: Schaller, Amanda
Abstract: Abstract Ecological risk assessments (ERAs) are centered on predicting ecological impacts resulting from anthropogenic or natural sources of stress, in order to assist in making informed environmental policy decisions. Within the United States government, ERA procedures are driven by laws, regulations, policies, and other governances, and the actions of its decision makers have impact on a public services or practice. In addition to limits on federal ERA processes from policy-directed decisions and outcomes, the distinct mission of a particular agency profoundly influence the assessment procedures. Every attempt is made to avoid redundancy in agency responsibilities, so the primary duties, scope of work, and foci of assessments for each organization are inimitable. Each agency has developed unique frameworks to demonstrate the procedure it uses to conduct ecological risk assessments in order to meet the distinctive needs of decision-makers serving that entity. This report examines the methodologies of three US agencies, the US Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. This suite of agencies was selected because of its regulatory purview over all landscapes, ecosystems, and industries, as well as the prevalence of ERA-based products resulting from mission-critical work. Aspects of each agency’s ERA methodology that are evaluated include the role of stakeholders and risk managers in the assessment process, the degree of economic and social influence, the utility and universalism of the approach, array of resulting decisions, technical aspects of the framework itself, efficiency, and public perception. The analysis concludes that the frameworks of the three agencies are more similar than they are disparate with regard to functionality, flexibility, and public involvement in the proceedings. Opportunities to increase flexibility of the frameworks and increase public trust in the processes appear to be the areas that are most in need of attention.
Date: 2013

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