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Monday, January 14, 2013

CRM, EIA, and the NRA

I'm working on a new book -- co-authored with Claudia Nissley -- on consultation in cultural resource management (CRM) and environmental impact assessment (EIA).  The final chapter, as currently configured, comprises tongue-in-cheek guidelines for people who want to avoid meaningful consultation.  By sheer coincidence I was working on a piece of this chapter today, and was inspired to write the following:

Expand Alternatives

On the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to expand the range of alternatives thrown on the table – not for extensive, expensive consideration, but just for discussion – so those that might actually work get lost in the noise generated by impossibilities.

Outside the cultural resources and environmental arenas, the National Rifle Association in the United States is, as we write this (early 2013), giving us a fine example of alternative expansion. Faced by massive popular revulsion at gun violence in the wake of the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut, the NRA is proposing improved mental health as the solution. It’s hardly debatable that improved mental health would reduce the number of nutcases with guns, but fixing the nation’s mental health is a big, complicated job. By shifting the focus from the relatively easy task of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to the near-impossible job of curing the mentally ill, the NRA is skillfully muddying the water and, in all probability, once again preserving its members’ ostensible right to own whatever kinds of weaponry suit their fancy.

Now if I could just figure out a way to apply this principle to CRM and EIA.....

1 comment:

Big Al said...

I'll refrain from smart ass comments about better mental health surely leading to better consultation or tribes bringing armed guards to the meeting rooms for protection ....

In my experience, the most common means of avoiding meaningful consultation is flooding Tribes with letters. For example, we get on average about 3 letters every week from just one USFS Ranger District. When we sent them (a) a list of the areas and types of undertakings in which we were actually interested and then, when that got no response, (b) suggested developing an agreement that would set out what they didn't need to notice us on, we again got no response (other than more letters). Hard not to conclude that they were sending us all those notices to simply overwhelm us with paper. No need to consult when your respondents are so busy just trying to sort thru the masses of paper you send that they can't respond at all. An a priori version of your proposal, I think.

On the other hand (and this one is, as of today, my all-time personal fav), I was once told by a senior agency official, 'well we gave you notice and you didn't respond.' When I asked how they had sent us a notice (thinking that we'd dropped the ball and that I was pissed at the agency with out just cause), I was informed "We sent you a draft Press Release." When I asked (more or less) if she was kidding. She advised me that she had cleared this with her attorneys and that she was 100% serious! They had done what they were required to do.' How a Draft Press Release was supposed to prompt consultation or even constitute notice, for that matter, still escapes me.

Actually, now that I reflect on it, the "Press Release" gambit has been used on me twice. So it's not quite as original as I first thought.