Environmental Protections – A Proposal for Public Branding of Institutional Controls

In and OutThrough WhatsDown, we maintain a catalog of “institutional controls”.  However, in the app there is one big change – we replaced the term ‘institutional control” with the term “environmental protection”. With WhatsDown serving the public, we were compelled to generate an intuitive mapping application.

The term “institutional control” is a general umbrella term that captures various devices including environmental covenants, land use restrictions, deed restrictions, activity and use limitations (AULs), governmental controls and often engineering controls.

The term “environmental protection” carries the inspiration behind the terminology.  When an environmental protection is applied, the stakeholder knows that there is a device in place that is protective in nature.  While the term environment is broad, within the context of land contamination, the meaning is relatively implicit. As an environmental professional would establish an “environmental protection” the duty associated with that is embedded in the term.  The term “environmental protection” is both trustworthy and efficient.

As our environmental  industry and the agencies embark on the stewardship of installed remedies, the priority shifts to promoting the discovery of institutional controls.  By design an institutional control must communicate to diverse stakeholders who heed their guidance. These stakeholders do not carry the domain expertise of an environmental professional, yet their decisions are critical to an institutional controls effectiveness.  For example, a local government land use planner should respect controls that affect zoning, an excavator should understand controls that affect actions damaging a liner, and a community member should be aware of notices that affect food crop production.

Labeling these controls as “environmental protections” immediately engages the user with their relevance. We tested the term, and found most recognized the intent and purpose – especially when compared to the terminology commonly applied within our industry.  Following is the FAQ from WhatsDown where we strive to introduce Environmental Protections.

What Are Environmental Protections?

Environmental Protections are legal or physical controls, sometimes dubbed “institutional controls” by regulatory agencies, that guard people from unsafe exposure to contaminants at spill sites. Environmental Protections are put into place when government agencies allow spill site cleanups to occur under so called “risk based” standards, which allow some contamination to remain in place if environmental protections are added to guard against exposure. Environmental Protections limit activities and future uses that could pose health or environmental hazards. These protections ordinarily last for as long as contamination remains in place, which could be for many many year, even permanently in some cases.

WhatsDown shows Environmental Protections in “caution” yellow, indicating proceed with care. Environmental Protections often address a single parcel of land, but also can cover much larger areas when, for example, groundwater or soil contamination spreads across multiple properties. WhatsDown increasingly attempts to map the boundary of the Environmental Protection. Otherwise, WhatsDown shows the Environmental Protections as a point on the map.

Government agencies ordinarily require Environmental Protections to be tailored to the hazard. For example, if contaminated groundwater would inadvertently be used for drinking, the protection could be a drinking water restriction. If there were chemicals harmful to children, then protection could restrict use for schools or daycare. The protections are assembled based upon specific risks posed by the spill site. Not all spill sites have protections associated with them, especially those where cleanup has not been completed.

We hope that in the future we might find some shifts.  When remedies are described to the public, the term “environmental protection” can be used to provide quicker assimilation.  We might find state websites saying “Download Environmental Protections” when public repositories of institutional are engineering controls are maintained.  What are your thoughts?

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