From Bugs To Breakthroughs- My Path To Environmental Conflict Resolution  

By Deborah Dalton

Imagine a typical public meeting about a controversial local environmental issue, like a recycling center transfer station or preparation for coastal flooding– how did it go? Were people civil? Did they speak their hearts? Did they listen and seek ways to accommodate differences? Was there a decision as a result of the discussion, or a stalemate leaving everybody feeling frustrated?

Every environmental action or decision involves people and organizations who have a wide variety of experiences, approaches, opinions, and needs. EPA frequently navigates these diverse interests under our existing environmental laws.

For the last 30 years, it’s been my job, my calling and passion, to help my colleagues to seek out better, easier, faster ways to accommodate the varying needs of those who depend on us to protect the environment and public health. I’m a Conflict Resolution Specialist within the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center(CPRC). Our center provides expertise in the design and conduct of public involvement activities and in resolution of disputes for EPA.

I came to this calling in a very roundabout way, as most people do if they are lucky to be curious and flexible (and jobless with a master’s degree). In college, I was a social psychology major. After being inspired by evolutionary genetics in my senior year, I pursued graduate work and teaching in biology, and eventually got hired by EPA as an entomologist.

So, how did this lead to a calling in public engagement and dispute resolution? Well, as I worked on the cleanup of hazardous waste sites in another job at EPA, I was frustrated with a system that forced people into taking positions that were mutually exclusive and then asking a judge to pick one of the options. To me, it seemed to leave creativity off the table and to postpone real environmental progress.

Today, CPRC helps our colleagues navigating these types of conflicts and use communication effectively to craft creative solutions. I give my colleagues easy access to sound conflict resolution processes, including tools like mediators and facilitators, so they can focus on improving the science and policy of environmental protection.

My proudest accomplishment is my role in creating and professionalizing the field of environmental mediation and public involvement as a real, full-time career through the creation of two unique tools: a national EPA contract for hiring professional facilitators and mediators from the private sector and a searchable national roster of environmental facilitators and mediators.

While my career has not been that of a traditional environmentalist (or entomologist), I’ve found ways to use my skills and passion to advocate for creative environmental solutions that protect our communities.

About the author: Deb Dalton is currently a Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist in the EPA’s Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.  She has worked at EPA since 1976 in programs including enforcement, pesticides, hazardous waste and regulatory policy before committing her career to public involvement and conflict resolution. 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Success Stories: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Barry Breen Barry Breen

By: Barry N. Breen, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management.

We are proud of the environmental and economic accomplishments made by local communities who use EPA resources provided through our Brownfields program to clean up and reuse brownfield sites. These communities demonstrate that a commitment to protecting public health, repurposing land, and strengthening local economies can be accomplished together.

Through our Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) program, we help communities tackle environmental challenges to spur their local economic growth. Recipients of RLF grants capitalize a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans and sub-grants to clean up brownfield sites. When loans are repaid, the repayment is returned into the fund and subsequently lent to other borrowers, providing an ongoing source of capital. These and other EPA brownfields grants leverage additional resources needed to clean up and redevelop brownfields.

So many projects, past and present, demonstrate that environmental improvement works hand-in-hand with economic development. One outstanding example can be found in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Several beige one story warehouses near a highway

Former Stewart Metal Site

The “Steelyard” redevelopment is situated on a historic Oklahoma City oil field on the east side of Bricktown. The 5-acre site was contaminated by a former metal manufacturing facility and past drilling and storage activities. Countless underground structures were found during cleanup including underground storage tanks, historic oil wells, and piping. The City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Oklahoma Corporation Commission and EPA all partnered to assist this complicated redevelopment. The City of Oklahoma City’s Brownfield RLF program loaned $1,300,000 to the project for environmental remediation and the remainder of the cleanup was paid for with private equity. It will be home to a mixed-use complex with retail shops on the first floor and housing above. It will offer 30 affordable housing units out of a total of 250 units in downtown Oklahoma City and will start leasing in summer of 2017.

Computer drawing of two multistory full block buildings, colored red and gray with interior courtyards.

Steelyard Apartment Rendering

West of this property, the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority (OCURA) owned a 1.38 acre site that had the same environmental problem and underwent a cleanup simultaneously with the Steelyard apartments. The City of Oklahoma City provided a $200,000 sub-grant to clean up the site. OCURA was then able to do an RFP for site redevelopment. The site is currently being redeveloped into two new hotels, the AC Hotel and a Hyatt place that will create new jobs and open in 2017.

Computerized drawing of a five story building with a large metal awning.

Hyatt Place Rendering

East of this property, the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority (OCURA) owns a 1.83 acre development. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality awarded a $350,000 sub-grant and waived oversight costs for the cleanup of the project. Once the Steelyard apartments are complete, this property will be available for expansion of the apartment complex.

Computerized drawing of a five story building in gray and brown with a drive-in entrance.Projects like these demonstrate the value of our Brownfields program in communities across the country. Since the beginning of our Brownfields program in 1995, cumulative brownfield program investments across the country have leveraged more than $24 billion from a variety of public and private sources for cleanup and redevelopment activities and more than 124,759 jobs. On average, for every one EPA Brownfields dollar provided, $16.11 is leveraged, and on average, 8.5 jobs are leveraged per $100,000 of EPA brownfields funds expended on assessment, cleanup, and revolving loan fund cooperative agreements.

A study has shown that when brownfields are addressed, nearby property values within a 1.24-mile radius can increase 5-15.2 percent. Another study analyzing data near 48 brownfields found that an estimated $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue is generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup. This is 2 to 7 times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of those brownfields.

We are proud of local communities’ accomplishments achieved by using our Brownfields program resources. We plan to continue to work with communities to help them clean up and reuse their brownfield sites; to protect public health, revitalize land and strengthen the economy.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.