How Can Communities and Developers Work to Mitigate the Impacts of Big Projects?

How Can Communities and Developers Work to Mitigate the Impacts of Big Projects?

by
Matthew Eisenson
|October 3, 2023

A direct air capture facility owned by the carbon removal company climeworks. (Photo: designboom)

When a proposal for a big project comes to a neighborhood, local residents frequently raise concerns about the project’s potential impacts. When residents believe their concerns are not being addressed, they frequently mobilize in opposition, often by filing lawsuits. These lawsuits can be very costly for everyone involved, and may result in the delay or cancellation of the project.

To avoid protracted conflict and mitigate local impacts, developers and host communities can enter into legally binding contracts called Community Benefits Agreements, or CBAs. Last week, Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law published a best practices guide for negotiating and drafting these CBAs. Along with the guide, the center also published a database of 50 of these CBAs from existing climate-related projects and other types of infrastructure

CBAs can provide substantial benefits and head off significant harm to communities as well as developers, says the guide. A typical CBA provides communities with a combination of monetary benefits (for example direct payments) and nonmonetary benefits (for example environmental stewardship commitments). They typically come in exchange for increased community support and increased certainty in the approval process.

The new guide, Expert Insights on Best Practices for Community Benefits Agreements, outlines 35 recommendations for developers and host communities when negotiating and drafting CBAs. These are the product of extensive interviews with a panel of lawyers and other experts from across the United States who have collectively negotiated dozens of CBAs and similar agreements. Thus, they reflect lessons learned through experience.

While the guide specifically aims to assist developers and host communities who are negotiating CBAs in the context of direct air capture hubs and carbon-dioxide pipelines in the United States, the recommendations should be applicable to other types of infrastructure.

The 35 recommendations are divided into best practices for developers negotiating CBAs; best practices for host communities; and best practices for jointly drafting CBAs, as well as key terms to include in them. The last section of the guide cites examples from the Sabin Center’s new CBA database as models for certain types of provisions. The Sabin Center invites readers to submit examples of additional CBAs that can be added to the database, at matthew.eisenson@law.columbia.edu.

Matthew Eisenson, co-author of the guide with Romany Webb, is a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, where he leads the Renewable Energy Legal Defense Initiative.


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