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Policy Analysis & Evaluation



George Weber, Inc. Environmental combines the interdisciplinary perspectives and tools of policy analysis and program evaluation to study and develop solutions to a wide range of current problems. Clients find that our interdisciplinary approach helps them solve complex problems and adapt to rapid change.

Weber has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in the Western United States, including in the state of Alaska and on Tribal (Native American) lands.  He has experience in several substantive policy areas including:

  • Water;
  • Hazardous Waste Site Remediation and Redevelopment;
  • Environmental Quality;
  • Natural Resources Management;
  • Land Use;
  • Environmental and Socioeconomic Impact and Mitigation; and
  • Hazard assessment and mitigation.

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Assessment of Potential Conflicts between Federal Wellhead Protection Program and Western State Water Allocation Systems

Weber assessed potential legal, institutional, and political conflicts between Western state ground water allocation systems and the federal Wellhead Protection Program (WHP) for the Ground Water Protection Program Region 8 EPA. Concern of EPA and state WHP program managers that conflict could occur between the two systems motivated the study. EPA wanted to anticipate potential conflicts and formulate strategies potentially managing them proactively.

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Protecting the Use and Quality of Ground Water

The analysis used:

  • An open system framework for characterizing and comparing the WHP and Western state systems for allocating ground water; then
  • A matrix analysis to consider if the application of each management tool potentially available to WHP managers could conflict with state ground water allocation systems, and if so, the character of the potential conflict in each case.

The effort developed the data required by reviewing relevant literature, and interviewing professional associations with ground water responsibilities and select state WHP program managers to identify their concerns and conflicts experienced.

The research did not identify conflicts as occurring up to the time the study was conducted. This included within case law addressing the intersection of Western water quantity and water quality.

The matrix analysis identified several specific political and legal conflicts as possible, but concluded that WHP mangers had potential opportunities to anticipate and manage them proactively. The application of several WHP tools could stimulate political conflict. Political conflict could lead to legal conflict.

Four WHP tools were judged as having little potential to motivate legal conflict. These depended on voluntary efforts and/or would not restrict, regulate, or affect acquisition, withdrawal, or use of water through coercion or threat of legal action.

WHP tools regulatory in nature (e.g., land use controls, design standards, operating standards, source prohibitions) were judged as having potential to motivate legal conflict as application of these could restrict or change how water is used, and changes in water use could make use more costly. The research identified two types of legal challenges as possible, the first on the basis of law making water allocation predominant over water quality protection, and the second on the basis that a regulatory taking would occur.

Systems analysis identified potential for conflict based on the differing historical contexts, goals, administrative structures and organizations, and different unintended products of the system allocating water as compared to that protecting water quality.

Exceptions to these generalizations were noted, including state legal structures beginning to reflect water quality concerns in water allocation law, organizational integration between quantity and quality systems, and the potential that individual professional staff within each system might share values, goals, outlooks, and approaches to some degree. Also noted, was the fact that the two social systems are interdependent, just as the two physical systems are — i.e., the economic feasibility of every use of ground water depends on a minimal threshold of water quality. These exceptions and the interdependence of the physical and social systems were judged as providing important pragmatic potential opportunities for WHP managers to manage and resolve potential conflicts between the two systems.

The study concluded by developing strategies for WHP managers to manage potential conflicts proactively. One set of strategies was suggested for implementation at the community level, where ‘the rubber meets the road’. The other set of strategies involved intergovernmental program management techniques and a set of legal, institutional, and political changes in the structure of state water management systems.

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Colorado State Water Policy Study:
Energy and Minerals Resource Development

Weber developed projections of the range of consumptive water requirements plausibly resulting from future development of the energy industry in Colorado, primarily oil shale and coal fired steam electric generation. The projections of water consumption were limited to the energy technologies, and not population growth that could result from development. The water consumption estimates were based on available literature, and considered different technologies and the components of each, including mining and reclamation/revegetation. Projections of planned or proposed energy developments were identified for each major Colorado river basin, and numerous factors making these uncertain examined. The analysis supported development of the ‘State Water Policy Study’ by the Executive Director’s Office, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

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Colorado Critical Agricultural Lands Project:
Energy Resource Development

Weber assessed the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts on agricultural resources resulting from proposed energy and minerals developments for the ‘Critical Ag Lands Study’. The primary concern of the overall study was the issue of conversion of agricultural land and other resources to non-agricultural uses. The study described trends of agricultural land conversion, analyzed the causes and consequences of conversion, discussed options for responding, and suggested specific action recommendations.

Rock Creek, Colorado
Agricultural Land Conversion: Rock Creek, Colorado
(Source: Colorado Public Interest Research Group)

Three general issues impacting agriculture were identified – increasing population growth on highly productive agricultural lands in the Urban Front Range, increasing rates of ground water use by irrigated agriculture in the eastern plains depleting ground water, and potential development of coal and synthetic fuels (e.g., oil shale) on the Western Slope. Weber’s work suggested that the more significant threat from energy development to agriculture was the attraction of labor from the agricultural sector to the Western Slope energy development sector. A secondary impact was projected to occur on Western Slope agriculture from the resulting population growth and development of rural residential sprawl and conflicts with the historic agricultural activities and population. The Resource Analysis Section, Colorado Department of Agriculture developed the study required by the Legislature.

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Issue Brief On Rental Housing Needs to Support Deliberations by Colorado Legislature

Weber assessed socioeconomic factors influencing the demand for low and moderate-income rental housing for Colorado Housing, Inc. The assessment relied on readily available data from a variety of state and federal housing agencies (e.g., calculations made using special cross tabulation of census data). The organization used the evaluation of the magnitude and character of housing need among low income and elderly Colorado households to support the Legislature in deliberating housing assistance legislation benefiting low and moderate-income households.

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Assessment of Region 8 EPA Libby Asbestos Superfund Site Community Involvement Program

George Weber, Inc. Environment (GWE) recently completed an assessment of the Region 8 Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Community Involvement Program (CI Program) at the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site, Montana.

The general purposes of the assessment were to:

  • Develop a better understanding of the site and EPA’s current involvement with the community; and
    Libby, Montana
  • Provide EPA with recommendations potentially improving its CI Program.

EPA had GWE do the assessment because it recognized that collaborative relationships with stakeholders are helpful, if not required, for achieving its responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

GWE developed criteria providing the basis for the assessment comprised of values, principles, and best practices drawn from public participation, risk communication, EPA Superfund Community Involvement guidance documents, collaborative networks, and other related fields.  The assessment used a classic typology of citizen involvement to characterize the CI Program and provide EPA with a strategic road-map for improving it, and relied on cutting-edge communication concepts and best practices.

GWE found that the EPA Libby CI Program generally exceeds minimum Superfund CI guidance requirements and recommendations.  However, potentially EPA could improve CI Program effectiveness and efficiency in four general areas:

  • Using current risk communications principles and best practices, in addition to the older ‘2-way Communication’ approach that it has been using.
  • Determining and documenting current perceptions of a ‘representative’ sample of stakeholders that relate to their potential to collaborate in the remediation effort — and particularly about how these stakeholders perceive EPA’s trustworthiness, credibility, and competence.
  • Developing a structure and process for collaborative problem-solving and decision-making among a ‘representative’ group of stakeholders and EPA, in addition to the current forums that are designed for EPA to inform and consult with stakeholders that may not achieve the value of ‘representativeness’.
  • Developing EPA Libby Team capacities for developing strategic and implementation plans, and preserving institutional memory over time and through changing staff.

GWE made action recommendations consisting of an over-arching strategy and three sets of tactical actions for implementing the strategy for EPA to consider:

Libby, Montana Overlook
  • Adopt a strategy framing its approach for involving Libby stakeholders as a ‘collaborating network’.
  • Determine, document, and analyze the perceptions of a ‘representative’ sample of stakeholders to collaborate in problem-solving and decision-making in order to complete the remediation effectively and efficiently while preserving EPA’s legal responsibility for final decision-making.
  • Develop EPA’s internal capacities for strategically planning, then implementing full stakeholder engagement by training the EPA Libby Team in the ‘collaborating network’ framework; developing mechanisms for preserving institutional memory of Libby stakeholders, their relationships, and how these develop over time; and improving staff capacities for developing strategic and implementation plans.

To download the Executive Summary of the Final Technical Memorandum for the assessment, click here.

Download Adobe® Reader®.

To request an electronic copy of the final report in PDF file format, please click here.

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Evaluation of Safe Drinking Water Act Lead Ban Implementation By Five States

Weber evaluated the legal and organizational capacities of five Western states for complying with the federal ‘Lead Ban’ mandated by the U.S. Congress under Section 1417, Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1986. State programs were evaluated for Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Soldered Water Systems Connections
Soldered Water Systems Connections

The Safe Drinking Water Program, Region 8 EPA had the evaluation made because Congress gave EPA responsibility for overseeing implementation by the states and required the agency to evaluate state compliance annually. EPA program managers wanted to perform their oversight role proactively, and needed to develop their understanding of the legal and organizational structure each state had for implementing the Lead Ban, since these differed from those normally used for implementing SDWA requirements. In addition, they wanted to identify potential barriers to effective implementation proactively and formulate strategies for removing these.

Weber used a systems approach for developing research questions and data, and organizing the information characterizing the legal and organizational systems of each state. In addition, he developed criteria for evaluating each state’s compliance from SDWA language. He developed the required data by reviewing each Governor’s certification application, state statutes and regulations, including those governing plumbing and local government, and by interviewing state and local officials.

The evaluation identified state organizations involved with the Lead Ban and Safe Drinking Water Program generally, and characterized relevant legal mechanisms including state plumbing standards, plumbing permitting and inspections, and licensing. Weber developed action recommendations and responsibilities for implementing these where he noted potential problems.

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Assessment of Comprehensive Tribal Ground Water Protection Program Capabilities

Weber evaluated the ground water related activities and capabilities of two tribal governments – the Southern Ute (CO) and Pine Ridge Reservations (SD) — for developing and implementing a comprehensive ground water protection program under EPA’s national policy defined in its Strategy for Protecting Ground Water in the 1990s and Beyond. He developed the assessment for the Ground Water Branch, Region VIII EPA. The Ground Water Program wanted to use the assessment to support development of Tribal capabilities by developing a model framework for Tribal ground water protection programs generally, and identifying for the two pilot Tribes specifically, their ground water protection needs, barriers to resolving these, and actions that each Tribe and EPA could take to address these.

Weber developed a framework for research and evaluation from the six strategic activities of EPA’s Comprehensive State Ground Water Protection Plan (CSGWPP) guidance, and from public administration literature focused on the basic government functions required to support a substantive program (e.g., planning, organizing, budgeting, personnel management). The effort developed required data using interviews with the lead environmental official for each Tribe and reviewing supporting documents they provided.

The evaluation reached several conclusions. General conclusions included:

  • EPA needed to modify its CSGWPP concept and apply it flexibly for it to be useful in the Tribal context.
  • EPA should expand the CSGWPP concept by borrowing from the principals and techniques of community development practice.
  • Ground water efforts of each Tribe at that time generally did not achieve strict interpretation of EPA’s ‘adequacy criteria’, however, these did not seem appropriate for the Tribes’ circumstances.
  • Each Tribe is challenged by barriers to achieving EPA’s ‘adequacy criteria’ including a lack of time, staff, funding, a developed plan, and data.

The evaluation identified actions each tribe could take to address its needs and barriers, including in the areas of data development, public participation, planning, and program development. In addition, it identified assistance EPA could provide, beginning with staff visits to the Tribes, and helping them develop the data and providing financial resources necessary for developing a comprehensive Tribal ground water protection program.

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Region VIII EPA Indian Program Multi-Media Assistance Agreements: Annual Progress and Performance Summary Compliance Evaluations

Weber conducted an evaluation of the Tribal Program, Region VIII EPA and four Native American Tribes’ Multi-Media Grant Programs for compliance with requirements of the grant program. These requirements were specified in Section 5, “Regional Reporting”, in Guidance Multi-media Assistance Agreements for Indian Tribes, issued by the Office of Federal Activities, Office of Enforcement, U.S. EPA. The evaluation was developed for the Tribal Programs Coordinator, Region VIII EPA, to achieve its annual reporting requirement to EPA Headquarters, and for achieving several additional purposes, including:

  • Managing and integrating various activities of the Tribal Work Group, Region VIII EPA with other EPA multi-media activities;
  • Responding to inquiries concerning the Tribal Program grant administration, implementation, and oversight activities;
  • Managing grant financing by the Grants Management Branch, EPA Region VIII;
  • Evaluating each Tribe’s Multi-media Program progress; and
  • Developing a tool for each Tribe to track its progress and finances, and ensure that it achieves all program commitments.

The evaluation addressed programs of the Cheyenne River (SD), Fort Peck (MN), Wind River (WY), and Yankton (SD) Reservation governments by:

  • Identifying program activities, including those supporting Tribal Multi-media programs conducted by the Tribal Program, Region VIII EPA;
  • Identifying each reservation receiving Multi-media grant assistance;
  • Providing summary comments concerning each Tribe’s Multi-media Program accomplishments and constraints;
  • Describing activities potentially having national significance; and
  • Describing the content and format of the detailed report for each Tribal Multi-media Program that was developed and included in the appendices.

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Alaska State Energy Organization

Weber assessed the organizational structure of Alaska state government managing energy issues for the Speaker of the House, Alaska Legislature, while serving as a Project Manager for the Energy Program, National Conference of State Legislatures.

He established a framework for studying state organizations, and provided information based on the organizational experience of other states. He developed a profile of the then current Alaska system for solving energy problems, which involved:

  • Developing a thorough inventory of state energy goals, policies, programs, and agencies; and
  • Analyzing the processes used to formulate energy goals and to implement, coordinate, and monitor programs.

He interviewed sixty-eight individuals in twenty-four agencies and programs to develop the information.

He identified a number of issues of special interest to the Legislature and recommended options in eleven functional areas for Legislative action, including identifying specific instances where responsibilities needed clarification.

Building on this study, Weber was asked by the Alaska Division of Power and Energy Development to assist Booz, Allen, Hamilton and Associates in conducting the policy, program, and intergovernmental portion of the 1982 Alaska State Energy Plan. The ‘State Energy Programs and Policies’ chapter of the plan reported on current state energy activities and provided recommendations for program modifications and additions, including those dealing with the possibility of energy emergencies.

Weber developed a description of state and federal agencies involved in Alaska energy and their accomplishments to date. The recommendations noted that the rapid increase in legislative and supporting appropriations for energy programs created a need for a more structured planning process. Areas for improvement in energy program planning and administration were noted in three general areas:

  • Consistent rational economic methods for evaluating and comparing energy programs and technology projects;
  • More detailed and accurate data on Alaska energy resources and energy consumption by end use sector; and
  • Reduction in number of state agencies involved in energy program planning and administration

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