Facilitator-on-Call for the City of Somerville

The City of Somerville, Massachusetts, has turned to CBI for facilitation support for almost twenty years: to facilitate neighborhood meetings on flooding and street design; to lead meetings on policing; to hear from residents about their hopes for the partnership between Somerville and Tufts University; and more. Now, Somerville has CBI as its facilitator-on-call, meaning that when Somerville needs facilitation services, CBI will be there. Any city department that wants process support can come to CBI, and many already have. On the way for the coming year so far are (a) helping Somerville (along with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and the City of Cambridge) design a public engagement strategy to accompany their Combined Sewer Overflow planning work and (b) helping to run Somerville’s Climate Ambassadors Program.

When municipalities choose CBI to serve as facilitator-on-call, they have CBI’s support should their staff lack the capacity, time, or expertise. It’s an exciting role, with numerous possibilities.


Achieving Safe Waters for Swimming and Shellfish Consumption in California

For those swimming on California’s beaches or eating shellfish from its waters, minimizing exposure to bacteria is an issue of safety as well as equity, as beach closures and safety warnings can take away some of the only wild ‘blue’ spaces available for free to many families and children. Meanwhile, ongoing disputes over cities’ and counties’ failure to meet water quality standards have led to litigation and a loss of trust among regulators, the regulated community, and NGOs acting as watchdogs for safe coastal waters.

For two days in September, CBI Senior Mediator Ryan Golten facilitated a statewide “Bacteria Summit” convened by California’s Water Board and statewide regulated entities to seek a common understanding among state agencies, Tribes, EPA, NGOs, and others about how best to meet statewide goals for safe swimming and shellfish consumption. As with many highly technical and controversial issues, this required not only a comprehensive discussion of the science and potential solutions, but an exploration of the needs and considerations facing the various parties and a rebuilding of trust eroded by years of regulatory actions and legal posturing.

The 100-person summit—the first major in-person event at the Water Board since the start of the COVID pandemic, with an additional several hundred people attending online—was a combination of technical presentations by leading scientists, panel discussions, small group conversations, group polling and debriefing, and re-connecting in person to solve scientific, legal, and regulatory challenge affecting California’s waters and communities. Many expressed that the summit represented an exciting new chapter in collaboration. One of its outcomes was a commitment by the State and NGO advocates for a “mini-summit” to discuss what future action is needed to attain clean waters with fewer lawsuits, greater collaboration, and more equitable results.


Tribal Wetlands Handbook

From 2019 to 2022, CBI’s Doug Thompson joined with our outstanding partner Lucy Moore of Lucy Moore Associates to work with EPA and a group of dedicated Tribal leaders to draft a guide for tribes developing and operating wetland management programs (find more about the EPA's project here). Before drafting the guide—titled Protecting Waters and Wetlands in Indian Country: A Guide for Developing Tribal Wetland Management Programs—CBI convened a Tribal Roundtable of 16 Tribal representatives from around the country—meeting nine times from November 2020 until September 2021—to ensure that Tribal needs, knowledge, and perspectives were reflected.

EPA funded the development of the guide as a supplement to the Association of State Wetland Managers’ (ASWM) 2013 Wetland Program Plans Handbook: A Resource to Assist States and Tribes in Developing Strategic Approaches to Achieve Comprehensive Wetland Programs. The supplemental Tribal guide covers EPA’s “core elements framework” for developing wetland program plans and includes a focus on incorporating cultural values and traditional ecological knowledge. It also helps Tribes identify sources of technical and financial support to develop wetland management programs. The guide has numerous examples and case studies that reflect the rich diversity of Tribal experience and accomplishments when it comes to protecting wetlands and other aquatic resources.  

CBI and Lucy Moore Associates completed the final draft of the guide in the spring of 2022. The document is undergoing final review by EPA before its release and distribution. 

Protecting Bats while Developing Wind Energy

Almost 10% of US energy comes from wind turbines, providing a carbon-free source of energy and an array of environmental benefits. But it hasn’t happened without an environmental cost: high levels of bat mortality have been recorded at many wind energy facilities. The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was founded to confront this problem, bringing together academic researchers, government agencies, and more. Recently, Patrick Field and Stephanie Horii facilitated our fourth BWEC research planning workshop with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). CBI and NREL developed an innovative approach with short online seminars on specific areas of research, coupled with a later set of discussion sessions identifying, refining, and polling on research priorities. CBI also did a performance review of BWEC and offered several suggestions for improvement. BWEC leadership and BWEC’s funder, the Department of Energy, intend to take up the process recommendations in the process review in the coming months. 

Species Recovery for the Rice’s Whale

The Rice’s whale is one of the most endangered whale species in the world. In a 2017-2018 study, scientists estimated that the entire species population amounted to some 50 individual whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Threats to the species are known to include oil spills, vessel collisions, small population size, fishing gear entanglements, and noise from energy exploration and development and shipping traffic and other vessels. Yet efforts at species recovery meet with a peculiar challenge: it’s also a little-known subject, only identified as a distinct species in 2021.

In the fall of 2021, CBI partnered with NOAA Fisheries to convene a workshop to bring together a wide range of parties (researchers, governmental agencies, industry, and conservation organizations) to brainstorm potential ideas for a recovery plan for the Rice’s whale. The workshops sought to understand which recovery actions would reduce the severity of threats confronting this species, and then to prioritize among potential recovery actions. In brainstorming sessions, participants were tasked with ranking important steps that would fall within four categories: research, management, monitoring, and outreach and engagement. By doing so, participants provided their input on ranking priorities for species recovery—ranging from a photo ID catalog to monitor the species to ship speed reductions in waters associated with the Rice’s whale. NOAA Fisheries will now draw on workshop feedback to develop a Recovery Plan for the Rice’s whale.

Recommended Practices for Stakeholder Engagement for Pipelines

In the face of strong opposition to the development of pipelines that transmit hazardous liquids and gas—prompting disputes over whether they are needed, and where their routes should go—it has been challenging to implement effective engagement with stakeholders on how to build them safely and responsibly once their existence and routes are determined. 

In this context, the Pipeline Safety Trust (PST), a national advocate for pipeline safety, asked CBI to facilitate a set of cross-sector workshops on communication and engagement around pipeline construction. These informal workshops resulted in the leader of the PST and a major pipeline company to advocate for and secure a process for creating and formalizing better practices for engagement. This past year, working again under the Pipeline Safety Trust, CBI facilitated the American Petroleum Institute’s ANSI standard-setting body’s multi-sector process to establish Recommended Practices for engaging stakeholders during pipeline planning, construction, and operations. Through a process that brought together parties from NGOs, academia, industry, and local, state, Tribal, and federal governments, new guidelines have been agreed upon for deeper public engagement that can build better relationships. The Recommended Practices include significant environmental justice components. Pipeline operators will now have clearly described and auditable steps to improve their engagement. These practices aim to reduce miscommunication by prompting pipeline operators to refocus on safety, mutual benefits, and considerate interactions with communities directly affected by pipeline construction.

A First-in-the-Nation Commission on Clean Heat

Massachusetts’s decarbonization goals are clear: greenhouse gas emissions are to be halved by 2030, and by 2050 the Commonwealth is to achieve net-zero emissions. The use of fossil fuels for heating and cooking, however, presents an obstacle, generating a large percentage of the Commonwealth’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And so, in 2021, Massachusetts initiated a first-in-the-nation Commission on Clean Heat, aided by CBI’s Toby Berkman, who worked as part of a team of facilitators to guide the Commission’s process for finding a consensus on dramatically reducing emissions in the building sector.

The Commission represented a range of perspectives—from industry, government, environmental studies, and more—and it successfully came to an agreement on a range of next steps. Members have, among other things, recommended an approach to system-planning with gas and electric utilities; outlined strategies for accelerating the implementation of clean heating technology; and called for a regulatory process to develop a Massachusetts Clean Heat Standard. Now, Massachusetts has a roadmap for its history-making pursuit of clean heat.