Building on earlier efforts, guidance from the federal government on mitigation for environmental impacts recommends the use of large-scale plans, preferably carried out in advance of impacts, to steer both development and mitigation. The idea is that advanced planning can improve site selection for proposed projects and increase the return on investment for mitigation while helping to provide greater predictability for project proponents, increase the efficiencies of project review, reduce permitting times, and support better environmental results. This paper explores progress in integrating large-scale, spatially explicit planning into environmental markets and programs in the United States. Through interviews with experts and review of the gray literature and government documents, it identifies examples of large-scale planning in these programs. It describes how the planning is guiding decisions about impact avoidance and compensatory mitigation, whether the planning is required or optional, and if the planning incorporates co-benefits or other regulatory-driven priorities. The assessed programs cover wetlands and streams, at-risk species, water quality, stormwater, greenhouse gases, and natural resource damages. They range from somewhat centrally planned programs in which spatially explicit planning is more common to distributed, market-based approaches in which such planning is less common. Large-scale planning appears to face few barriers to development and use, but its uptake may be limited by other factors like cost and time, uncertainty in the required spatial models, or insufficient proof of value. There has been little study of such planning’s investment return, environmental outcomes, or permitting time.
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions