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Keywords:

  • Decision criteria;
  • Environmental risk assessment;
  • Site remediation

Abstract

Decision making in environmental projects can be complex and seemingly intractable, principally because of the inherent trade-offs between sociopolitical, environmental, ecological, and economic factors. The selection of appropriate remedial and abatement strategies for contaminated sites, land use planning, and regulatory processes often involves multiple additional criteria such as the distribution of costs and benefits, environmental impacts for different populations, safety, ecological risk, or human values. Some of these criteria cannot be easily condensed into a monetary value, partly because environmental concerns often involve ethical and moral principles that may not be related to any economic use or value. Furthermore, even if it were possible to aggregate multiple criteria rankings into a common unit, this approach would not always be desirable because the ability to track conflicting stakeholder preferences may be lost in the process. Consequently, selecting from among many different alternatives often involves making trade-offs that fail to satisfy 1 or more stakeholder groups. Nevertheless, considerable research in the area of multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) has made available practical methods for applying scientific decision theoretical approaches to complex multicriteria problems. This paper presents a review of the available literature and provides recommendations for applying MCDA techniques in environmental projects. A generalized framework for decision analysis is proposed to highlight the fundamental ingredients for more structured and tractable environmental decision making.