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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Two Years of Studies!

I was browsing a shop at O’Hare Airport today, and the shop’s TV was blaring.

“They’ve had TWO YEARS to study the impacts of that pipeline!” some talking head (Rick Perry, I think; I couldn’t see the screen) was saying with disgust. “That’s ENOUGH! It’s time to APPROVE IT!”

I assume the subject was the Keystone XL Pipeline. The thought that ran through my head was: “does it never occur to this doofus that one might study something for two years and conclude that it was a bad idea?”

Of course I know that it would not – particularly if the doofus was Perry, but quite likely if it was almost any other American citizen. We’ve become used to the idea that studies – particularly things like environmental impact assessments – aren’t really supposed to TEACH us anything or provide a basis for making informed decisions; they’re just things that have to be gone through, part of the price of doing business, on the way to doing what we’ve already decided to do. Sometimes, of course, we don’t bother to do studies at all (case in point: invading Iraq without thinking about what to do afterwards). Other times we waive planning studies or attenuate them into near-nonexistence (case in point: Deepwater Horizon). But even when we do them we don’t take them seriously, and don’t entertain the idea that they might lead us to re-think our initial prejudices.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Rick Perrys of the world who think and act this way. The Obama administration has been – and continues to be – just as big a bunch of doofuses (doofi?) when it comes to its own pet projects, be they renewable energy development or high-speed rail. And we who do the studies – at least we who do environmental impact analyses – haven’t done a thing to discourage this doofusity. We’ve happily drawn our fees doing bogus studies that make our clients’ projects look benign – maybe stretching them out for quite awhile and sucking as much money out of them as we can, but never, never, never allowing them to suggest that a project is a bad idea.

And after all, how could we? We’d be fired if we did.

I don’t know much about the Keystone XL, but I do know that two years isn’t too long to study the potential impacts of such a project, particularly when it will presumably have the effect of accelerating the despoliation of the Canadian landscape overlying the tar sands, with all its attendant effects on water and air quality, wilderness values, wildlife, First Nations rights, and other natural and cultural resources. And I wouldn’t think it entirely beyond reason for such a study – of whatever duration – to provide a rational basis for concluding that on balance the U.S. government ought not to be a party to the scheme.

Except, of course, that such studies don't provide a rational basis for anything.  They have long since become so unreliable, so biased, so untrustworthy as to be useless.

Which still doesn’t lead reasonably to the conclusion that two years’ study is enough, though; it’s probably way too much.

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