Sunday, August 12, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #10 - No Risk Nonsense

The entire discussion about CAO protection has been advanced without any understanding of human health or ecological risk. Nowhere is this more evident than in the WAC regarding the CAOs, which states:

WAC 365-195-920
Criteria for addressing inadequate scientific information.

Where there is an absence of valid scientific information or incomplete scientific information relating to a county's or city's critical areas, leading to uncertainty about which development and land uses could lead to harm of critical areas or uncertainty about the risk to critical area function of permitting development, counties and cities should use the following approach:
(1) A "precautionary or a no risk approach," in which development and land use activities are strictly limited until the uncertainty is sufficiently resolved; and
(2) As an interim approach, an effective adaptive management program that relies on scientific methods to evaluate how well regulatory and nonregulatory actions achieve their objectives. Management, policy, and regulatory actions are treated as experiments that are purposefully monitored and evaluated to determine whether they are effective and, if not, how they should be improved to increase their effectiveness. An adaptive management program is a formal and deliberate scientific approach to taking action and obtaining information in the face of uncertainty.
To effectively implement an adaptive management program, counties and cities should be willing to:
(a) Address funding for the research component of the adaptive management program;
(b) Change course based on the results and interpretation of new information that resolves  uncertainties, and;
(c) Commit to the appropriate time frame and scale necessary to reliably evaluate regulatory and non-regulatory actions affecting critical areas protection and anadromous fisheries.
The fundamental difficulty with this regulation is that there is no such thing as "no risk." There can be de minimis risk, but a "no risk" approach, like unicorns, has never existed and never will exist.

To find such a statement in the administrative code for an agency is truly remarkable, but it's not half as remarkable as some of the statements issued by Ecology in their letters to the County, which further demonstrate that they regularly confuse the concept of "risk" with "error," "uncertainty," and "level of concern."

It was the above-cited WAC that Jon Cain, our Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, referred to when he sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Shireene Hale back in 2008 encouraging the Council to designate the entire county as a Critical Aquifer Recharge Area (CARA).

That wasn't a "no risk approach." That was an error. A gigantic Type 1 error; a false positive; a false alarm. It was nonsense then, and it's still nonsense now.

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