Alternative Dispute Resolution at the EPA
The EPA strongly supports the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to deal with disputes and potential conflicts. The EPA uses the definition of ADR in the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996: "any procedure that is used to resolve issues in controversy, including but not limited to, conciliation, facilitation, mediation, fact finding, minitrials, arbitration, and use of ombuds, or any combination thereof." 5 USC 571(3). All these ADR techniques involve a neutral third party, a person who assists others in designing and conducting a process for reaching agreement, if possible. The neutral third party has no stake in the substantive outcome of the process. Depending on the circumstances of a particular dispute, neutral third parties may be Agency employees or may come from outside the EPA. Typically, all aspects of ADR are voluntary, including the decision to participate, the type of process used, and the content of any final agreement.
The EPA encourages the use of ADR techniques to prevent and resolve disputes with external parties (e.g., state agencies, industry, environmental advocacy groups) in many contexts, including adjudications, rulemaking, policy development, administrative and civil judicial enforcement actions, permit issuance, protests of contract awards, administration of contracts and grants, stakeholder involvement, negotiations, and litigation. In addition, the EPA encourages the use of ADR techniques to prevent and resolve internal disputes such as workplace grievances and equal opportunity employment complaints, and to improve labor-management partnerships.
While ADR may be appropriate in any of these contexts, the decision to use an ADR technique in a particular matter must reflect an assessment of the specific parties, issues, and other factors. ADR program staff at EPA Headquarters and in the Regions can help the parties assess whether and which form of ADR should be used in a particular matter.