Ecosystem Services in NEPA – exciting new tool, weak buzzword, or another burden?

The ecosystem services concept is generating excitement in environmental circles around the world as a way ofprotecting public goods such as crop pollination, the capacity of wetlands to “clean‐up” water, and the climatebuffering action of vegetation. In the United States, land managers and policy officials have begun to take notice ofecosystem services, and the idea is shaping policy guidance for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),management initiatives, and dispute resolution. However, new concepts in policy discourse and guidance do notnecessarily produce a different set of decisions or outcomes in resource management. Government land managementand other environmental agencies are

constrained by political institutions (e.g., legislative authorization,appropriations and oversight) and the pressures of relevant laws and interest groups—both agency clients and critics.

Our research will provide a systematic review of the use of ecosystem services in legislation and policy – withparticular focus on how federal policy guidance on ecosystem services has or has not influenced environmentalassessments under NEPA. The deeper contribution of this research explores the impact of the ecosystem servicesapproach on how policy‐makers think and act. This study fills a critical gap in our understanding of U.S. environmentalpolicy by examining how ecosystem services are being considered under NEPA. Further, our research demonstratesthe capacity of science and scientists to create and promote tools useful for the real world of environmental decision‐making and governance.


Adding ecosystem services to environmental impact assessments:More 

sequins on a bloated Elvis or arockin’ idea?

Presnall, CK, L López-Hoffman & ML Miller. 

2014 (available online March 11, 2014).Ecological Economics. Invitedsubmission to special issue on ecosystem services in U.S. federal environmental regulatory policy.DOI:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.02.001 (link)

Lab Members Involved

Carrie Presnall

Laura López-Hoffman

Research Partners

Marc Miller
Erwin Chan
Dinah Bear

Related Links

Concil on Environmental Quality: NEPA


Whither NEPA?, 12New York University Environmental Law Journal333 (2004)Open AccessHeinOnlineLexisWestlaw

Toward a Smarter NEPA: Monitoring and Managing Government's Environmental Performance, 102Columbia LawReview903 (2002), reprinted in 34Land Use & Environment Law Review483 (2003)


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