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Monday, January 26, 2015

Understanding the Koch Brothers

I’ve long wondered how the Koch Brothers and the suckers they attract[1] could remain so rigorously true to their own self-interest, in the face of mounting evidence that they’re destroying the very planet on which we all live.  Enlightenment came when I learned  that the Kochs hang out and hold job interviews for their political lackeys in Palm Springs, California.

Palm Springs is built on and around Sec-he, a hot mineral spring and settlement of the Cahuilla Tribe.  In Cahuilla tradition, a powerful spirit named Tahquitz lives in an obsidian cave high in the mountains that tower above Sec-he.  Tahquitz come out now and then in the form of a blue light or comet and – consumes people’s souls!

So there we have it.  The Kochs are soul-free creatures possessed by Tahquitz, and so, quite likely, are their suckers.  They are zombie-like beings who cannot really be held accountable for their actions and beliefs. 

How we account for Tahquitz’ own motivations is a trickier problem, requiring more study.

[1] Who could resist referring to their political lackeys as Koch suckers?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Dan Synder?

Can anyone help me understand the difference between cartoons mocking Mohammad and use of the name “Redskins” for an American football team? 

I’m not writing to excuse the assault on Charlie Hebdo, and I don’t mean to trivialize its consequences or implications by comparing it with the ongoing uproar over the name of Washington DC’s team.  I’m just trying to get my mind around how editorialists and other opinion makers can more or less simultaneously insist that we beneficiaries of Western Civilization stand in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo staff (peace be upon them), and not with Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins.  Are/were not both exercising the right of free speech, freed expression?  Have not both been assaulted (albeit in very different ways) by people who believe that they have the right not to be offended?

Does the difference lie in the nature of the assault?  Native Americans and others in the U.S. have used legal action and appeals to public opinion; the attackers of Charlie Hebdo used bullets and (earlier) firebombs.  That’s a valid distinction, surely, but does it justify us in ramping up editorial mockery of Islam – as is surely implied by the call for us all to “be Charlie," and not rationalize backing Snyder?  If somebody took out the Washington team's owner tomorrow, should we all start chanting “RedSKINS, RedSKINS?”

Or does the difference lie in the perceived basis for the offence?  Radical Islamists like those who attacked Charlie Hebdo apparently believe that they are acting on behalf of God/Allah himself when they do their dirty deeds, while Native Americans who object to the Redskins sobriquet base their objections on centuries of genocidal oppression.  Maybe that's a valid distinction, but it strikes me as a rather slippery one.  In an interesting coincidence, Muslims have been experiencing oppression by western colonial powers since about the same time Native Americans began to feel it – ca. 1492 AD.  And God/Allah is notoriously mum about his/her desires (except to some fundamentalist Christian mullahs, with whom he [definitely HE] apparently chats routinely), while history is by definition in the past.  The basis for rage among Islamists and some Native Americans in the present seems to come down simply to the fact that they are offended by what they view as disrespect for their spiritual/cultural beliefs.

So where do we draw the line?  Under what circumstances do we line up in support of free expression, and when do we support its suppression, whether through self-censorship or the acts of government?  I don’t deny that there are lines to be drawn; I self-censor myself all the time, and I imagine that so does anyone else who writes for public consumption.  But I worry about it, and I worry about populations and media that rally to slogans without thinking through their implications.  I’d be grateful for enlightenment.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Patricia L. Parker, 1943-2014

An expanded and corrected version of my recent Facebook posting.  Thanks to Emogene Bevitt, Pat Tiller and Cherie Lizarraga for improvements and corrections.

Patricia Lee (“Pat”) Parker, Chief of the American Indian Liaison Office in the National Park Service, died on December 16, 2014 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Dr. Parker was 71 years old.
Born Patricia Lee Sires in 1943, Pat lost her father, Lt. Howard E. Sires, in 1945 when he and his Navy Liberator bomber crew went missing in action over the South China Sea.  Her mother, Billie Louise Schnebly, then married Navy Chief Petty Officer Griffith H. Parker, Jr., who gave his name to Patricia and her sister Charlotte.
Dr. Parker studied European and American History at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her bachelor’s degree and a California teaching credential.  She was a popular high school teacher in Marin County, California for almost a decade before beginning graduate studies at San Francisco State University.  Married at the time to attorney John Hickman, she received a Master’s Degree in anthropology and took part in archaeological and historical studies in various parts of California.  Following a divorce, she undertook postgraduate studies in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. 
Dr. Parker’s dissertation research investigated the effects of successive colonial legal systems on traditional land law in Chuuk, now part of the Federated States of Micronesia.  She lived in Chuuk for two years, learned the Chuukese language, and became deeply involved with Micronesian peoples and cultures.  She and Thomas F. King, who she married in 1977, helped mediate disputes between the U.S. government and Chuukese villagers over construction projects that threatened the villages’ natural and cultural environments.  They also coordinated major ethnoarchaeological data recovery work done by the villages in advance of those projects that proceeded after  agreements were reached.
Returning to the mainland, Parker received her PhD in 1983 from the University of Pennsylvania.  She and King became the parents of their son Thomas Sires King, and Parker began work for the National Park Service’s Cultural Resource Management program.  Initially hired to help set up the “Certified Local Government” program of financial aid to local historic preservation programs, Parker led a series of national meetings to define needs and directions, drafted program regulations and administrative procedures, and oversaw the program’s launch.  She then turned to helping Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian groups participate more fully in the federal historic preservation program, again coordinating meetings throughout the country.  These resulted in a report to Congress entitled Keepers of the Treasures, published in 1990.  Congress responded in 1992 with amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act that expanded and clarified roles in the national historic preservation program for tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. 
Perceiving the need for better relations between the National Park Service and American Indian Tribes, whose ancestral lands the Service in part controls, Parker proposed creation of a national American Indian Tribal Liaison Office.  When the Office was created, she became its Chief, a position she held until her death.  
Dr. Parker was a tireless champion for Native American cultural interests within the Park Service and beyond.  She was instrumental in securing a homeland for the Timbisha Shoshone in Death Valley and in resolving many other long standing issues between American Indian tribes, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian organizations, and the National Park Service.  Dr. Parker selected Charles Wilkinson of University of Colorado, Boulder, a national expert on Indian Law and Public Land Law, to be the primary instructor for a series of intensive 2-day workshops on the foundations of Indian law and policy.  From 1997 to 2014, she and Wilkinson held some 30 workshops throughout the country, training close to 1,000 people.  While Park Service managers and senior staff were the primary beneficiaries, tribal speakers were always featured; many tribal members and other Federal agency senior staff were also included.  Participants gained, often for the first time, an understanding of the special legal, fiduciary, and historical relationships that exist between tribes and the U.S. government.
Parker led a cultural resources tribal working group within the Park Service to better coordinate and communicate the programs and resources available to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.  This working group developed a website to share this information with tribes at .  The working group also authored a series of Quick Guides to share core information on key Park Service programs and the essential legal framework of the National Historic Preservation Program.  The Quick Guides are posted on the tribal website.
Parker was also known for her co-authorship of National Register Bulletin 38, on how traditional cultural places can be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  This bulletin clarified the fact that the Register’s criteria are inclusive enough to recognize places of traditional value to tribes and other communities.  Eligibility for the Register requires Federal agencies to take such places into account in planning land use projects, and to consult about management alternatives with the communities that value them.  
Parker maintained her concern with Micronesian affairs, helping the Freely Associated States of Micronesia establish and manage historic preservation programs with National Park Service assistance.  This and her other work with indigenous groups led her to serve as an advisor to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO, and the World Bank. 
At her death, Parker was deeply involved in long term efforts to create a Lakota-administered Tribal National Park on the South Unit of Badlands National Park, and to finalize regulations establishing procedures for tribal access to traditional plant resources in National Park units to which they are historically linked.  She was also working to improve U.S. government consultation practices with American Indian tribes, Alaska Native groups and Native Hawaiian organizations concerning Indian Sacred Site management and other matters. 
Outside of work, Parker was a dedicated gardening enthusiast, with an elaborate garden at her home in Silver Spring, and was active in local horticultural organizations.  Beds of bulb flowers whose import from Holland she organized still grace parks and other public spaces in Silver Spring and nearby Takoma Park.  She was also talented at needlework; friends and family members will enjoy her sweaters, caps, socks, and artistic cross-stich for years to come.  Late in life she became an enthusiastic watercolor artist.  Early and late she traveled extensively both on her own and with family members and friends, visiting her ancestral landscapes in Sweden as well as China, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Australia, Fiji, Peru, the United Kingdom, Canada, the island states and territories of Micronesia, and every U.S. state.  Her last trip, in 2013, was a crossing of the Atlantic aboard the tall ship Star Flyer from Spain to Barbados, observing a total solar eclipse in mid-ocean.
Dr. Parker is survived by her husband, Thomas F. King and her son Thomas Sires King, his wife Monica, and granddaughter Olivia I. King, as well as by siblings Charlotte A. Lizarraga, Griffith H. Parker III, and Stephen J. Parker and their families, stepchildren Rachel T. King, Joshua M. King, and Madera K. Clark, plus step-grandchildren Emma and Duncan King, Noah and Jacob Richards, and Kayla and Tanner Clark.  She was predeceased by her younger sister, Juliet L. Somers, whose children, Peter Dale Somers and Juliet Somers-Barnes, survive her with their children.
Memorials are being planned and will be announced. In lieu of flowers or other tangible expressions of condolence, donations to the Native American Rights Fund ( are welcome.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


My post on “Entitlement, Service, and Dreams” has gotten considerable response, particularly on Facebook, where I’ve been taken to task for allegedly hating archaeology.  I’m tempted to encourage my critics to learn to read English – I think I’ve been pretty clear about the fact that I like archaeology fine, and enjoy doing it.  My objection is to treating it as though it’s the be-all and end-all of culture.  More specifically, I object to duping the world – or at least those segments of it that pay for environmental impact assessment (EIA) and “cultural resource management” (CRM) into thinking that if the archaeological impacts of the Megazap Solar Energy Project or the Toxicleak Pipeline have been taken care of, impacts on the cultural environment are under control.   

This objection leads me to have little sympathy for schemes like the Registry of Professional Archaeologists, or for kids who want to get paid more than they now get for doing archaeology-masquerading-as-CRM (AMACRM).  They’re parts of the problem, and they distract us from seeking solutions.

Since the “Entitlement” post has attracted some attention, I thought I should refer readers to a paper I wrote several years ago about my own now-regretted role in creating archaeo-CRM in California – it’s most readily accessed at

And I think I should also acknowledge that my guilt is really bicoastal.

Around the time my co-conspirators and I wrote the guidelines that helped make archaeology the heart and soul of “cultural” impact assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), I also became involved as a co-plaintiff with the Dry Creek Band of Pomo in a fight to stop construction of Warm Springs Dam in the Russian River valley.  We failed, but I succeeded in making myself unemployable in California – even then, one simply did not sue the folks who paid the CRM bill.  Luckily for me, however, the late Marian White, one of the driving forces behind the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC) had engineered a grant to help NYAC coordinate the state’s academic institutions in their conduct of contract archaeology.  Marian and NYAC hired me to administer the program, and later brought in the late Gary Berg – a student, colleague, and friend of mine from California – to assist me.

And one of the main things we did in the exciting year we spent in New York State – Gary in Albany, me in Buffalo – was to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), eleven cities across the state, and the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for violating Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

EPA was issuing grants to local governments to build sanitary sewer projects.  These projects naturally had the potential to mess up archaeological sites.  But EPA was “complying” with Section 106 simply by seeking “SHPO clearance,” and the SHPO – an office dominated by architectural historians – was cheerfully granting it, since the projects didn’t involve knocking down old buildings.

So, in the memorable words of an attorney/bureaucrat known to many of us, we “sued their eyes out.”  Raised the money, found a willing lawyer, filed suit.  And in the end, after a great deal of sturm und drang, reached a settlement with each local government in which they agreed to conduct archaeological surveys.

So just as in California, in New York I was at least in part responsible for generating the notion that archaeological survey is what you pretty much have to do if you’re planning a construction project.  And where our California guidelines had affected practice under CEQA, the New York case (Known as NYAC v. Train, Russell Train then being the EPA Administrator) helped make practice under Section 106 of NHPA equally archaeobiased.

So I’m partly responsible for the practices I deplore, and I suppose I’ve been trying ever since, in my various classes, publications, and practice, to make up for it by insisting that archaeology is NOT all there is to the cultural environment subject to effect by government actions.  I’ve promoted what seems to me the self-evident point that “cultural resources” include historic and cultural places that don’t contain a shred of archaeological evidence, and that aren’t necessarily old buildings either – places that communities value for their association with traditional beliefs, practices, and values.  And I’ve tried to remind people that culture can give value to things that aren’t places at all – wild animals, for instance, and fish, and birds.  That it can imbue water, plants, wind patterns, sounds and smells with cultural significance.  That culture can place great value on a dance form, a musical tradition, an indigenous language.  That “intangible” belief systems and traditional ways of life are inherently cultural.  And most importantly, that all these types of “resources” may be affected by governmental and government-regulated projects, and hence ought to be considered in EIA. 

I’ve failed.  That’s obvious in the abysmal state of EIA across the nation and worldwide, and it’s perhaps even more obvious – and galling – in the way so many of my colleagues go on practicing AMACRM, and encouraging their students to do the same.  

I don’t expect things to get better, and I don’t expect things to be improved by paying people more to do AMACRM, or by registering archaeologists as proficient in its practice.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Entitlement, Service, and Dreams

Some students in a university “cultural resource management “ (CRM) program were upset about my November 17 posting entitled “Contract Archaeology versus Plumbing,” (  In that post, I said that I didn’t see the registration of archaeologists, or increasing how well they’re paid, as a significant public policy issue.  The students invited me to visit their private chat page to explain myself, and I readily agreed. 

They asked me, in a nutshell, why I didn’t think “CRM” archaeologists ought to be registered like plumbers are, and make more money as a result.  Trying to be properly Socratic, I responded with a question.  What, I asked, is the social value of “CRM archaeology?”

I expected to get responses stressing how important it is to learn about the past, or take care of the environment, or control impacts on “cultural resources.”  These, I thought, might lead us into a fruitful discussion of just how these worthy interests are advanced by walking around on project sites looking for artifacts, digging holes, and in almost all cases assuring the world that proposed development projects won’t do any damage to those precious “resources.”  This, I figured, might lead on into a discussion of what “CRM” ought to be doing in order to advance such interests.

But the immediate responses I got were not at all what I expected.  Instead, they boiled down to: “The value of CRM archaeology is that it can (if if just will) pay me a good salary so I can support my family.”

Later on, I did get some rather more altruistic, less self-centered notes, but the opinion-setters in the group seemed to feel quite justified in saying that what they did was worth doing because it could, if they got paid well enough, make them comfortable.

I found this rather startling, and said so.  The reaction to this, on the whole, was not positive.  One fellow, who turned out to control access to the site and shortly excluded me from it, contributed to the discussion mostly by posting images of himself (I presume it was he) making ugly faces at me.  To this, higher education has evolved.

The notion that “X activity is good for society because it can (and should, dammit) make me comfortable” was so surprising to me that I began to wonder why my perceptions are so out of synch with those of the younger generation.  I try to resist geezer-talk (“Why, Sonny, back in my day…..”), but it had just never occurred to me to equate benefit for myself with benefit for society, and I had to think that this had something to do with the passage of generations.  “Back in my day” we distinguished between social benefit and personal gain, and rightly or wrongly took it for granted that (a) society didn’t owe us a living, but that (b) we owed society some kind of service.  As he often did, John F. Kennedy summed it up pithily: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  We might not all believe that our country was worth all that much devotion, but I think it used to be pretty widely believed that we had a responsibility to humanity, society, the world, the planet.  Conversely, I don’t think I ever used to hear or read anyone proposing that humanity, society, the world or the planet had any particular obligation to take care of us.

What, I wondered – and still wonder – has changed?  Is it rampant consumerism?  Or is it that we’ve become so fixated on civil rights that we’ve forgotten civil responsibilities?  Is it that every politician claims to be “fighting for YOU?” 

I don’t have an answer; I’m still puzzled, still mulling it over.  But the exchange with the students reminded me of one very specific policy decision, made back when I was a grad student, that I wondered about at the time, and still wonder about today.  That was the decision to end the draft.

Back in my day, sonny, it was understood that if nothing else, you (if you were male and reasonably fit) owed society, in the form of your country, a few years of service under arms.  Our country’s sad adventure in Southeast Asia made that understanding seem misguided, I suppose; whatever exactly the cause was, we gave up the draft in 1972. 

I wonder if throwing out the draft – perhaps combined with some of those other factors I alluded to earlier – led us toward thinking less and less about what we could/should/had to do for the country/society/the world.  Did this, in turn, lead us to flip the equation, conclude that – as my student interlocutors seem to believe – the world owes us a living?

I don’t know, but all this mulling made me particularly alert to an editorial in this morning’s Washington Post by David Ignatius about the “Franklin Project” at the Aspen Institute – see  The Franklin Project, according to its website, would “improve citizenship by giving every young person in America the opportunity to do a service year.” “Sometime between the ages of 18 and 28,” it goes on, “the young person would do a fully paid, full-time year of service in one of an array of areas from conservation to education and everything in between.” 

It’s not the draft; the proposal seems carefully formulated to emphasize the voluntary character of the “service year” – and that in itself is a bit surprising.  Have we become so disenchanted with the idea of service that we have to make it crystal clear that gee, kids, you don’t have to do this?  I guess we have.

But still, it seems to me like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start discussing service, and obligation, and who really owes who what. 

All this led me back to thinking about CRM, and the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system within which it’s embedded.  As assiduous readers of this blog know, I think that system has become fatally corrupted.  It occurred to me that one basis for this corruption, and for the puzzling fact that most people involved in the system seem to accept it as natural, is precisely the premise that something is a good thing if it allows you to make a living – that it need meet no other standard, no other criterion.

This, in turn, led me to wonder whether something like national service might provide the answer that I’m never able to come up with when someone asks: “OK, King, so the EIA system is corrupted, what do you want to DO about it?”  I find myself dreaming of some sort of EIA Service that would assess the impacts of proposed construction and land use projects in the public interest, rather than in the interests of those paying for and profiting from them.  Putting people like my student interlocutors to work not for the change agents, and not just to enrich themselves and the companies that employ them, but for the public, the environment, the future. 

Probably a dumb idea, or at least an idea whose time has gone before it could come.  We are probably way, way too far down the road toward self-satisfaction and comfort-seeking for anything like this – or even the seemingly rather filmy notions of the Franklin Project – to gain traction.  But dreaming of such things helps fend off the depression that's generated by experiences like my encounter with the students, and for such dreams I’m thankful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pity the Dugongs: U.S. DOD Says Court Has No Jurisdiction

By Tom King

Posted 11/25/2014 in the Huffington Post,

The Okinawa Dugong (Dugong dugon) is a large, fleshy marine mammal related to the Manatee (Trichechus sp.). Its dwindling population lives in sheltered waters around the island of Okinawa in Japan, feeding on beds of seagrass. Traditionally, the dugong is a sacred animal on Okinawa, associated with the ancient origins of the Okinawan people and with their continuing welfare. As a result, the dugong is officially listed as a "Natural Monument" under Japan's "Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties" (LPCP).
The Henoko/Oura Bay Project
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), under pressure to reduce its military footprint on Okinawa , has proposed to consolidate operations at Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base on Henoko and Oura Bays on the island's east coast. The proposal involves runway expansion over part of one of the few remaining seagrass beds available for the dugong. Per treaties with the U.S., the Japanese government supports the proposal.
Okinawa residents and Japanese environmentalists have fought the project, but have been thwarted by Japan's relatively weak and centralized environmental review laws, which give concerned citizens little opportunity to influence decision making. So the Japan Environmental Lawyers' Federation (JELF) and its allies turned to U.S. law. With the help of Earthjustice , in 2003 they found an obscure legal handle -- Section 402 of the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) .
Sections 106 and 402 of NHPA
The best-known section of the NHPA is Section 106, which requires U.S. government agencies to "take into account" the effects of their domestic activities -- such as highway construction, military base management, and energy development -- on historic places, which are defined as places included in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) spell out how this is to be done - it involves consultation with interested parties, studies to identify historic places and determine how they may be affected, and negotiation of agreements about how to deal with the effects.
Section 402 of the law is the international version of Section 106; it requires U.S. agencies to take into account the effects of their proposed actions on resources listed in any host nation's equivalent of the U.S. National Register. However, there are no regulations governing compliance with Section 402, so agencies tend to ignore it.
As did DOD in planning its expanded base at Henoko and Oura Bays.
The 2003 Litigation
On behalf of JELF and its allies, in 2003 Earthjustice filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charging that DOD was in violation of NHPA Section 402. Obviously, they charged, destroying the habitat of the dugong would have serious impact on the animals, whose listing under Japan's LPCP brought them under NHPA's protection.
The U.S. government initially responded that Section 402 didn't apply, because Japan's LPCP wasn't "equivalent" to the U.S. NHPA. Why not? Well, because it didn't use quite the same words, and because it includes animals, like dugongs, while the U.S. National Register does not.
The plaintiffs pointed out that "equivalent" does not mean "identical," and showed that while the U.S. Register indeed doesn't list animals per se, it does list places made historically significant through association with animals, such as traditional fishing sites. The lists, they argued, and the laws that govern them, are functional equivalents.
The court agreed, and directed DOD to refrain from pursuing the project until it had complied with Section 402 - which meant, the court said, following the basic outline of Section 106 review in partnership with the Japanese government and "other relevant private organizations and individuals."
DOD's Response
On April 16 of this year, DOD informed the court that it had done its work and determined that the base expansion would have "no adverse effect" on the dugongs. But the procedures it employed to reach this determination seem to bear only rhetorical resemblance either to Section 106 review as conducted in the U.S., or to the direction of the court.
DOD says its determination is based on studies done by various professionals - but it refuses to release their reports, or even their full titles. I've personally made two requests for the key report, and been stiffed by DOD both times. They haven't even told me to seek it under the Freedom of Information Act -- the government's usually favored means of keeping the public in the dark while pretending "transparency."
DOD says it "consulted," but it did so only with Japanese government agencies and with its own selected groups and individuals. It consulted neither with any of any of the plaintiffs or other opposition groups or with the general Okinawan public - or even notify them as to what was going on. I've seen no evidence that they even consulted with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, whose Section 106 regulations lay out the processes that the court said DOD should emulate.
DOD relied on essentially uncontrolled secondary data and a questionable environmental study conducted by the Japanese government to conclude that dugongs really don't use Henoko or Oura Bays very much, and if they do, well, they won't be bothered much by the construction and operation of the base. And while it assures the court that the project will have no adverse effect on the dugongs, it promises a good many measures supposedly designed to mitigate the adverse effects it says won't happen. But unlike under Section 106 of NHPA, where binding agreements are executed on how mitigation will be done, DOD simply says "trust us."
Having now - to its own satisfaction if to no one else's -- "complied" with Section 402, DOD has petitioned the court to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint.
And if the court isn't satisfied with the quality of DOD's "compliance?" Well, says DOD in its filings, that really doesn't matter, because the court has no jurisdiction anyway. The base consolidation/expansion is required for purposes of national defense and vital to our relationship with Japan, so under what DOD calls "a universal understanding ever since George Washington's administration," the court is barred from interfering in the executive branch's decisions.
Whither the Dugong?
The plaintiffs are not impressed; they have released their own studies, which criticize the inclusiveness and methodology of those relied on by DOD and predict that if the project proceeds, it will likely have disastrous consequences for the dugong. They have decried DOD's failure to consult or reach agreements in a manner parallel to ordinary practice under Section 106 of NHPA, and they have marshaled a considerable body of case law indicating that DOD is drastically overreaching in its interpretation of that so-called "universal understanding."
I'm told that arguments will be heard in court in San Francisco next week. What will become of the dugongs' case? Will the court find that whenever the U.S. Department of Defense decides that national security and international relations are involved, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over how DOD planning considers environmental impacts and addresses the concerns of the affected public?
Stay tuned. The dugong -- reported to have good hearing and long memories -- doubtless will, as though their lives depended on it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hole in the Head: Lessons Learned and Lost

Posted yesterday (11/21/14 in the Huffington Post: )
On November 1st, I accompanied my sister, Prue Draper, to a dinner at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, California, marking the opening of an exhibit on the Hole in the Head.
The what?
The Hole in the Head, now fifty years in place - from which emerged (with apologies to Rachel Carson, who also has a dog in the fight) the modern environmental movement, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The Head in question is Bodega Head , the headland forming the west side of Bodega Bay, probably most widely known as the scene of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963). A scenic out-jutting into the Pacific, where I camped and pothunted and fished salmon as a youth, off which we scattered my mother's ashes; a place I visit whenever I'm in the area, usually with Prue to get crabs sandwiches at the Spud Point crab shop.
And the Hole is where Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) tried, back in the late '50s and early '60s, to build a nuclear power plant - the "Bodega Bay Atomic Park." Assuring the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Atomic Energy Commission that the San Andreas Fault (of 1906 San Francisco earthquake fame), which passes through and formed Bodega Bay, posed no risks at all to the plant, the local community, or the bay.
In those days there were no environmental laws to speak of, and the Board of Supervisors decided they didn't even need a public hearing; this was clean, limitless energy, after all, and economic development, and jobs! Full speed ahead said they - as did the minimally involved U.S. government.
The exhibit - you can read about it and the Museum at -- is a triumph, especially for its prime creator, Curator Eric Stanley. And a triumph for what it commemorates - the successful fight, against all odds, by local citizens and the allies they recruited, to stop the project and save Bodega Head for posterity (It's now mostly part of the County parks system). The exhibit particularly honors Bill and Lucy Kortum, the pioneering northern California environmentalists, who spearheaded the fight and were at the dinner to receive our applause.
The next day, Prue, her son Bob and I drove out to the Head, got crab sandwiches and ate them overlooking the bay with our backs to the Hole - the foundation excavation for the reactor, abandoned when the opponents at last were able to enlist then-Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall to have the U.S. Geological Survey do a study, which proved that - yes, folks, there really WAS an active earthquake fault running right through the Hole. Nowadays the Hole is full of water, a quiet stopping place for migratory waterfowl.
But about the Hole's place in history.
PG&E gave up the project in 1964. NEPA was enacted late in 1969, and most people credit Rachel Carson's 1962 Silent Spring with lighting off the movement from which NEPA was born. I mean no discredit to Carson or her book when I suggest that the Hole in the Head fight struck another match. Silent Spring, after all, was mostly about the disastrous environmental impacts of indiscriminate pesticide applications; it may be more safely credited with leading to the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) than to NEPA. CWA is a science-based law, authorizing the establishment of clear-cut pollution thresholds and forbidding polluters to cross them. NEPA is about process - requiring government agencies to look before they leap, and that, at base, is what the Kortums and their colleagues were fighting for around the Hole.

PG&E had all the experts in hand, ready and willing to testify that the Atomic Park would be utterly benign, that no earthquake would trouble its operations, even that the power lines to be strung across Bodega Bay would be aesthetically pleasing. The company and its pliant public servants pooh-poohed the concerns of the local citizens - they, after all, were not experts.
Hence the logo for the Museum's exhibit, emblazoned on lapel buttons like the one shown below: Question the Experts

Which is what NEPA - in theory - provides for; the experts are to analyze a project's potential effects on the environment; everybody else gets to question them, and they have to answer.
But as I sat on the edge of the Hole the day after the dinner, watching families playing on the beach and crab fishermen plying their traps, it seemed to me that - for whatever reason - the lessons of Silent Spring have been learned and remembered - or at least translated more effectively into dogma - better than those of the Hole in the Head. Not that the world is free of the pollution that Carson decried - far from it - but at least there is widespread acceptance of the fact that pollution ought to be reduced, and that government can require its reduction. And the people who run the show under the CWA and other pollution control laws are the experts - scientists and environmental engineers, prescribing hard and fast standards and (we hope, at least) compelling adherence to them.

Under NEPA too, the focus of attention has come to be on the preparation of environmental assessments and impact statements by experts - usually by experts employed by project proponents, just like those hired by PG&E back in the '50s. Assessments and statements that are close to incomprehensible by ordinary educated citizens, whose comments on them are routinely dismissed by the project proponents' paid-for experts and their colleagues in the government review agencies.

What's been lost, I'm afraid - or really never quite realized in the construction of environmental impact assessment (EIA) systems under NEPA and similar laws - is the pivotal role of the public.
Almost fifteen years ago, in Citizens, Experts, and the Environment: the Politics of Local Knowledge (Duke U. Press), Frank Fischer provided a detailed analysis of how "expert" analysis of environmental impacts tends to be biased against the concerns of citizens. He looked hopefully toward reforms based on environmental justice and expanded/improved citizen participation.

Somehow though - maybe reflecting other things that happened around the turn of the century, like the election of George W. Bush as president, the general ascent of conservatives in the U.S. government, and the shocks of 2001, such reforms seem to have stalled, and today we have EIA systems that everyone seems to understand - and, oddly, accept - as reliant on "expert" analysis bought and paid for by development proponents. We have a multi-million - probably multi-billion - dollar EIA consulting industry to perform such analysis, employing practices that systematically exclude and denigrate the views, expertise, and concerns of citizens. We have government decision makers and media mavens who can and do blithely accept the notion that industry-prepared impact analyses - like the much-touted studies of the proposed XL Pipeline's supposedly minor impacts - are reliable bases for decision making. And we have a public that - though widely dissatisfied with the matter - doesn't know what to do about it.
We have, I reflected, returned to the 1950s; we've just complicated the processes by which the experts and their employers work their will. Enriching a lot of EIA analysts in the process, and by doing so, buying them - us, because I have to acknowledge that I'm part of the system - out.
Maybe, I thought, it's time for the environmental movement, and the government, to revisit the Hole in the Head, and think about the lessons it teaches us. A way to make that happen, I thought, might be to bring Eric Stanley's excellent exhibition to Washington, and make sure that members of Congress see it, maybe ponder it (I know, I do have a naïve streak).
So when I got back to DC, I asked a friend who's reasonably highly placed on the Senate staff what might be possible.
"I don't think so," he replied. "It's too obscure."

The Hole in the Head: 11/2/2014