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How Much Uncertainty is Too Much and How Do We Know? A Case Example of the Assessment of Ozone Monitor Network Options


*Address correspondence to Cynthia H. Stahl, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III, 1650 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.


Limited time and resources usually characterize environmental decision making at policy organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In these climates, addressing uncertainty, usually considered a flaw in scientific analyses, is often avoided. However, ignoring uncertainties can result in unpleasant policy surprises. Furthermore, it is important for decisionmakers to know how defensible a chosen policy option is over other options when the uncertainties of the data are considered. The purpose of this article is to suggest an approach that is unique from other approaches in that it considers uncertainty in two specific ways—the uncertainty of stakeholder values within a particular decision context and data uncertainty in the light of the decision-contextual data–values relationship. It is the premise of this article that the interaction between data and stakeholder values is critical to how the decision options are viewed and determines the effect of data uncertainty on the relative acceptability of the decision options, making the understanding of this interaction important to decisionmakers and other stakeholders. This approach utilizes the recently developed decision analysis framework and process, multi-criteria integrated resource assessment (MIRA). This article will specifically address how MIRA can be used to help decisionmakers better understand the importance of uncertainty on the specific (i.e., decision contextual) environmental policy options that they are deliberating.