html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Side by side.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Side by side.

I went into so much detail on the Army Corps of Engineers Draft Guidance for Treatment of Vegetation within Local Flood-Damage-Reduction Systems because I thought it provided an interesting contrast with another recent case of incorporating science into policy decisions. As an exercise, let us contrast the case of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Draft Guidance with Dick Cheney’s intervention in the Klamath. Both are cases where a bureaucratic decision is/was challenged by new scientific evidence. People argued that that is how the system works, and Cheney’s actions were indistinguishable from normal practices. I don’t think so, and I have prepared a little summary table for our use.

Look. Governmental agencies, even the ones I defend, don’t always get it right. When they get it very wrong, people in that field take notice and challenge the policy. When the challenge is strong, because there is good evidence to counter the policy and because the policy will lead to such bad outcomes that you can get a lot of people to oppose it, there are ways within the system (public comment, political pressure, going to the legislature, challenging it in the courts) to get that policy changed. When respectable new science contradicts the policy, it should be incorporated to make the policy serve our new understanding of the greater public benefit. Some agency decisions should be changed or re-written.

The public and its representatives should use new science to change an agency policy though the usual checks and balances in our government because we now understand that the policy would lead to a bad outcome. That is how our messy system works. When you see a lone political figure pressuring underlings, overturning all our standard practices to avoid the codified will of the American people to direct wealth to a narrow constituency to get them to vote for his political party, that is not correcting bad policy. That isn’t even politics as usual. That is pure and out abuse of executive power. It is cynical manipulation to cement political power and it threatens our whole system of self-governance. It is wrong and it is dangerous to democracy. Impeach Cheney.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the outcome of reversing the Corps' draft guidance is known. Think of this, Sacramento gets a 100 year flood, a levee fails on the north end of Natomas along the Sacramento. The boil that caused the levee to fail occurs where there is actually some dense riparian left on the levee. The Bee photo documents this as DWR is out trying to sandbag the levee. Hundreds of Natomas residents have to be rescued from rooftops. The state gets sued for billions because DWR recommended reversing the Corps draft guidance based on some masters student's thesis from a less than top notch engineering school. Perhaps, we need more information?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Erik said...

I don't think the two cases parallel very well, but either way, your chart would be more convincing if you left out the presumed motivations. It shows you are not an objective authority.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...


with respect, I don't think that policy guidance documents go through section 7 consultation. IIRC, there was an inter-agency scuffle between EPA and USFWS regarding pesticides that gets to this issue. (memory very vague, can you help?)

The nationwide permits avoid consultation, I think, because there is a specific carve-out for impacts to listed species and critical habitat.

Obviously, site-specific clearing projects would require consultation if USFWS made a "may effect" finding.

It's entirely possible that I'm wrong about all of this, in which case I invite you to point and laugh.

(completely off-topic -- did you see mwd's June 2007 Water Supply Planning Implications Report? 50% cutback from the SWP in an AVERAGE year! OMFG!)

2:19 PM  

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