Framing Environmental Conflict

Roy Lewicki

Professor of Management and Human Resources at Ohio State University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

In Ohio, a couple of graduate students and I, studied a task force that was set up by the EPA to try to rewrite water quality standards for ground water. This task force had probably twelve or thirteen representatives from the development community; these are people who do major construction kinds of things (power companies, road builders, big home owners or land developers). We also had twelve or thirteen representatives from the environmental community. These were people who represented conservation organizations, wildlife management organizations, etc. We also had representatives from the EPA at the table. It was clear that in the past three or four years, all of the cases that had gone to court had favored the environmental groups. So the environmental groups saw that the courts basically had backed a very high set of standards for water quality. It was crazy for them to negotiate away from what the courts had already done. The development community was very clear that they wanted to relax some of those standards. They used all kinds of economic and social arguments as to why the standards were too rigorous and mitigated economic development in a number of areas. The environmentalists argued that the current standards defined by the court were perfectly appropriate and there was no reason to back off from any of those. As a result, the environmental community argued that they had the upper hand and they were not about to move off of it. The regulatory community said that they wanted those things relaxed and to have more flexibility and freedom in what they do. In the most part, it is very much like a gain and a loss frame. The parties, in many ways, argued past each other. The whole year the community met together once a month to discuss the water quality standards. The same thing is true for how the dispute should be resolved. It was very clear since the environmentalists had the upper hand, they felt that any subsequent issue should go back to the court system. It was clear that the regulated community wanted to have more of a negotiated process mediated by the EPA, or something like that. We argue that those are frames. Those were experiences and perspective shaped by the interests of the parties which led them to the conversations that really didn't engage each other.