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The importance of defining technical issues in interagency environmental negotiations

January 1, 2001

The role of technical clarity in successful multiparty negotiations was studied. Investigations involved in-depth interviews with the principal participants in six consultations conducted under the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s hydroelectric power project licensing procedures. Technical clarity was especially important in these cases because they concerned science-based questions. The principal issues in the six cases were fish passage, instream flow for fish habitat, and entrainment of fish in hydropower turbines. It was concluded that technical clarity was one of the most critical elements in resolving these conflicts. In the least successful negotiations, parties failed to address the basic values of the dispute before plunging into technical studies. The results of those studies usually highlighted the potential for negative outcomes and increased polarization between the participants. In the most successful negotiations, the various parties shared an understanding of each of their basic values. These shared understandings led to technical studies that cast the negotiation in a positive light and illuminated possible solutions.