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Environmental Planners

The Job

Environmental planners help to ensure that urban and regional development and renovation plans are in compliance with environmental laws and regulations. They analyze plans for potential problems and also look for opportunities. For example, they make sure ecosystems and open spaces will be preserved, that water runoff is managed, and that endangered species are protected. They assess land use, wetlands and habitats, transportation, economic and housing characteristics, flood zones, coastal erosion zones, and air pollution and noise pollution.

Planners create short- and long-term plans for revitalizing and growing urban, suburban, and rural communities and the surrounding regions. In addition to environmental considerations, environmental planners also factor in economic and social health issues of growing communities, and help advise on construction plans for new school buildings, public housing, and other types of infrastructure. Clients also hire planners to help them figure out where to locate roads or new landfills, or for recommendations on zoning regulations.

Environmental planners provide the foundation for responsible development by analyzing and reporting on how land is currently being used for business, residential, and community purposes. Topics that they address in their reports include the location and capacity of highways and streets, schools, libraries, water and sewer lines, airports, and recreational and cultural sites. They also provide data on employment and economic trends, the types of businesses in the area of the prospective development site, and the characteristics of the population and predictions for its rate of growth. They make sure that plans allow for population growth, and that designs of facilities are in keeping with zoning and building codes and environmental regulations. Growing cities and towns also need effective public transportation systems, and planners help develop these systems and present their plans to planning boards and the general public.

Environmental planners may start out as environmental coordinators and associate environmental planners. A coordinator's responsibilities may include helping to develop plans and policies for natural resources for the coordination of National Environmental Policy Act documents, and participating in, coordinating, or managing natural resources programs and projects. A consulting company in Sacramento, California, was recently seeking to fill an associate environmental planner position for an environmental program. Candidates for the job needed to have prior experience in analyzing and preparing environmental documents, particularly in relation to NEPA and the California Environmental Quality Act. The project the associate would be especially focused on was a specific habitat conservation program, and the company sought individuals who had experience in analyzing and reporting on wetlands, endangered species, water quality, and cultural resources. The job entailed conducting environmental research, evaluating potential impacts, devising measures to mitigate the impacts, and writing reports.

A large part of an environmental planner's job involves reading information, analyzing data, and writing and presenting reports. Environmental planners use computer databases and spreadsheets to determine how much projects will cost and to forecast employment, housing, transportation, or population trends. They also use geographic information systems software to map out land areas and to show variables in population densities in areas, as well as to create alternative land-use plans by tweaking geographic information. They work closely with planning teams, land developers, civic leaders, and public officials. They also may function in helping to resolve community disputes regarding development plans by suggesting mutually acceptable options. They may speak at civic meetings and present and defend their proposals to legislative committees and elected officials.

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