An open letter to DEQ and EPA

Editor’s note:  This item, below, is something of an historical footnote and afterthought with respect to the other posts offered at this blog.  It was written in December, 2009 — that is, four years or so after the publication of the NAS report.  My letter was also published in the Shoshone News-Press, I think on December 30th too, but I’m not certain of the exact date.

dungbarrow

(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)

letter-top-09-rev2.jpg

Dear Mr. Peterson,

I received your letter dated December 15th, with its request that I either invite DEQ to test my yard or explain why I decline testing.

My answer is that I decline testing.

I have two reasons: 

(1) The first reason is bad science.  I believe that my yard is not a threat to public health and I believe that the science behind the claim that it is a threat is faulty and uncompelling.

(2) The second reason is to protect the voluntary character of the cleanup.  I wish to join with others who, by rejecting DEQ’s requests, are in turn testing the proposition that participation in the yard remediation program in the expanded Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund site is indeed entirely voluntary and will remain so in the future.

Let me discuss each of these reasons briefly.     

(1)  Bad science.  It might seem reasonable to suggest that the publication of the National Academy of Sciences’ report in 2005 should have assuaged concerns about the quality of science behind the yard remediations.  Didn’t the NAS report’s authors say they supported the cleanup?

The devil is in the details here. 

What actually happened was this.  The NAS report’s press release said that in general their study supported EPA’s plans for the basin. 

But NAS scientists tarnished their scientific and moral authority with the wording of their press release. 

There are two reasons.  First, the press release did not comport with the contents of the NAS report. The report confirmed nearly all of the scientific objections and criticisms brought forth by the SNRC Science Committee and other citizens.  For example, regarding the overlooked importance of bioavailability, speciation, and particle size in EPA science, the NAS report sided with EPA’s critics.  NAS’s report concluded that the EPA’s scientific approach had been less than fully adequate and recommended stronger methodologies in the future. 

The second reason is that the NAS study team subtly shifted its chief goal over the course of its work.  At the outset, the SNRC Science Committee and other critics of EPA science had sought a “scientific court” that would judge, straight-up, whether EPA had used good or substandard science in its Coeur d’Alene Basin investigations.  At first, at least, it seemed that the NAS study panel would do just that.

But NAS changed its objective midcourse.  And that change made all the difference.

Instead of making straight-up judgments on the adequacy of EPA science, the authors of the NAS report decided to frame their report as a guide for EPA’s science in future large Superfund endeavors.  The new – and, frankly, cop-out – orientation was evident even in the title of the NAS report:  Superfund and Mining Megasites: Lessons from the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.  The NAS wasn’t judging up or down, it was deriving “lessons” – i.e., lessons for the future – from the Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund’s scientific missteps and blunders.

Whereas critics wanted vindication for their on-target criticisms, NAS offered only the weak broth of recommendations for future Superfund sites.

So, no, the NAS report did not justify the yard remediation program here.  For us, the NAS authors merely invoked the notorious precautionary principle and covered their own posteriors.  They avoided offering fearless scientific judgments.  And, in the end, they composed a press release that reflected little more than their wishy-washy scientific and moral disposition.

(2)  Protecting voluntarism.  In March of 2007 I contributed a “guest opinion” article to the Shoshone News-Press on the topic of voluntarism in the yard remediation program in the Basin (available online at http://www.roizen.com/ron/vv.html).  I reviewed the history of the voluntarism commitment and the then-recent evidence of potential erosion in the commitment on EPA’s and DEQ’s parts. 

I am glad to see that Mr. Peterson’s letter still invites rather than compels my participation.

Make no mistake, EPA has the authority to compel participation if it chooses to do so.

Moreover, re-assertions of the voluntary nature of participation by EPA and DEQ should not to be understood as hard and fast promises.

For example, no too long ago a friend of mine in Elizabeth Park was asked if he would permit testing on part of his property.  The language of the request was wholly voluntaristic in tone.

When my friend declined, EPA and DEQ invited him to come to a meeting where the question might be discussed in person.

When my friend still declined, he soon thereafter received a letter declaring that testing would proceed without his consent.

In this case, EPA and DEQ claimed that the property in question fell inside “The Box” – which, by implication, would deprive it of the voluntary principle in use in the Basin Superfund area.

But the question of location is not the key point of this example. 

The key point is that an initial tone and language of voluntarism was ostensibly used by DEQ and EPA as a mere ploy, as part of a strategy for gaining consent..  When that strategy failed, EPA and DEQ simply invoked their muscle.

What happened to my friend seemed to me then and still seems to me now as governmental action more befitting of a banana republic or corrupt Third World dictatorship.  Assuring voluntarism at the outset and then substituting muscle after the voluntary approach failed is not a tactic I associate with the conduct of the government of the Unites States.

The experience of my friend suggests the kind of indifference to prior understandings that I fear my one day soon erode the voluntary principle in the Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund too.

Therefore, I find it important to test that principle by declining DEQ’s access to my property for soil sampling.

In conclusion, bad science and protecting voluntarism are my reasons for declining testing.

Sincerely,                  

[signed, Ron Roizen]

 

 

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