CivicGreen Policy: Designing for Democracy
We report on important policy and program designs at all levels of the federal system in the U.S. that seek to engage ordinary people in civic work, coproduction, and inclusive and just problem solving for sustainable and resilient communities.
A short introduction to “policy design for democracy” is contained in Carmen Sirianni, “The Civics of Federal Climate Policy: Designing and Investing for Community Empowerment and Public Participation” (August 2020), with references to core works in this tradition. Sirianni builds upon this tradition to offer a comprehensive proposal that could be passed by Congress and implemented by the president and executive agencies committed to enhancing robust community engagement in green policy design.
In their essay, “Policy Tools and Democracy,” Steven Rathgeb Smith and Helen Ingram provide a wide ranging analysis of how policy tools across various policy arenas can enable responsible citizenship, social capital, and democratic deliberation, yet also obscure purposes and depress civic engagement. There are no certain strategies; the devil is in the details and the fruitful mixes and hybrid forms we might design.
We also host policy discussions and debates on these and similar issues.
We link to proposals and programs that might be primarily about regulatory reform or infrastructure investment, but have also signaled a role for community engagement and public participation (with short notations on these).
Hearing on Capitol Hill, April 15, 2021: “The Clean Future Act and Environmental Justice: Protecting Frontline Communities,” with links to most recent versions of proposed bills.
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Deep Dive into Policy Specifics
The Civics of Federal Climate Policy: Designing and Investing for Community Empowerment and Public Participation
This paper integrates disparate pieces of policy design that might enhance civic engagement and collaborative problem solving in communities across the country in the coming decades, and offers a basis in policy analysis and democratic theory. It proposes ways to build upon some policy designs we already have, but more ambitiously. It also discusses some new designs that might engage a still broader range of community, professional, and institutional actors. Critically, however, it proffers a formula to ensure adequate funding for the broad and complex range of civic capacity building challenges that lie ahead, as well as ways of providing strategic leadership in the White House and across public agencies and their partners.
Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (EJCPS) and Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE): Two Models at EPA
These two programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emerged as a response to rising claims of environmental justice (EJ) communities for greater voice in local problem solving. Communities wanted to see tangible results that improved the lives of children and families, health and environment, while also creating capacities for tackling further challenges down the line. Both programs have been held up as models to build upon in Green New Deal and other ambitious climate policies before Congress, though typically with little more than a brief mention. Critics have argued that such grant programs largely demobilize EJ activism and are counterproductive. We thus need to appreciate their designs more fully.
Policy Proposals of Interest:
- House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just AmericaThis is currently the major comprehensive legislative package on this topic. Its relevance to community engagement and environmental justice is found in the ways in which environmental and climate justice … Read more
- “Environmental Justice for All Act,” H.R. 5986, 116th Congress (2019-2020).Important Elements to Note: — All federal agencies should provide meaningful involvement to communities (including indigenous and tribal communities), due process in all rulemaking and enforcement, and direct guidance and … Read more
- Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.”Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez prioritize greening and modernizing buildings, providing community resilience centers, and including resident participation in architectural design and other resilience projects This bill also proposes strengthening participation in … Read more
- Elizabeth Warren, Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On, 2020This proposal put forward by Warren during her presidential campaign specifically mentions Environmental Justice (EJ) small grants to local groups, as well as the larger Community Action for a Renewed … Read more