Also, we occasionally still hear press reports about Stone-Age tribes that hold out against the modern world ... in the Amazon ... Papua New Guinea ... or some remote island. In these days of iPads, space stations, and genetic engineering, some of these Stone-Age tribes don't even know how to make fire ... and have never heard of the wheel.
Which brings us to the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program within the Department of Ecology. These are the regulators who advise local governments about shorelines and wetlands because of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA). In reality, the responsibilities of Ecology are very different under these two Acts, but they don't want you to know that. Under the SMA, Ecology is directly authorized to oversee, and take charge if necessary, of land use planning for shoreline zones. Under the GMA, they have no authority. No one says this better than Gordon White, the Head of the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program:
"We don’t have regulatory authority in local critical areas ordinance issues. We don’t make rulings or issue enforcement actions under local critical areas ordinances. Those tasks are on local government turf" (Gordon White, Eco-Connect Blog, February 14, 2012.)Let's be clear about this. Under the SMA, Ecology is authorized to carry out the limited objectives of the SMA only, which is a planning law, not an environmental protection law per se. Under the GMA, Ecology is not authorized for anything, except to advise the Department of Commerce about Critical Areas. That bears repeating ... they are authorized to advise the Department of Commerce (not local Counties) about critical areas (not about the 14 goals or any other aspect of the GMA). Ecology would like you to believe that they are in charge of habitat and endangered species and wetland delineation and saving the planet and the whole GMA. They would like you to believe they are authorized to mainline their biased GMA advice directly into the veins of buffer-addicts in every County Planning Departments ... but they are not.
Altogether different from the SMA and GMA, Ecology is separately authorized under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to regulate discharges to waters of the State/US, but their authority under the CWA is about discharges. They regulate pollution, not non-pollution. They regulate effluent, not waters. Nowhere, outside of the specific planning purposes of the SMA, is Ecology given authority to identify or delineate streams, wetlands, shorelines, or any other waters of the State/US. They have proclaimed themselves as the expert authorities in this area, but they are not.
This brings us back to our Stone-Age lead-in. The Ecology folks who aren't authorized for much of anything produce Best Available Science (BAS) about everything. However, like the Stone-Age tribes who haven't heard of the wheel, the Cro-Magnons at the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program seem to be entirely ignorant of concepts accepted everywhere else in environmental science. As we repeatedly mention, they know nothing about risk assessment, but they also know nothing about environmental chemistry ... or geology ... or habitat ... or hydrology ... or physics ... or bio-statistics ... system dynamics ... or science generally. They say revealingly stupid things like (from the Hruby report), "The recent research has also increased our understanding of the many different factors that control the effectiveness of a buffer at trapping pollutants" such as type of pollutant, concentration of pollutant etc.
Increased "our" understanding? How could you not know this? This is in every elementary textbook (and there are thousands) dealing with risk assessment, fate and transport, and environmental chemistry. These principles are at work daily in Ecology's own Toxics Program. This is like a Stone-Age tribesman in the 21st century saying that "we" just discovered fire, and then bombastically posturing as if they are on the cutting edge of discovery. Somehow, and I don't know how, the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program has been able to survive like a lost Stone-Age tribe, surrounded by modern technology, but unaware of it. Along with them are fellow holdouts comprised of planners, consultants, attorneys, and non-profits who profit from believing the earth is flat.
We have to contend with their ignorance and bias in maddening ways, one of which was mentioned by some commenters to the previous post ... namely scientific uncertainty and the application of the precautionary principle. One of the ways Ecology projects their power and Stone-Age ignorance is by practicing data sophistry. For instance, we actually have quite a bit of data in these islands that show that we have no problem. Cleverly, though, that gets twisted by Ecology and the County into an opportunity to apply the precautionary principle. Let's discuss an example for the sake of illustration. If I were to sample a stream for pollutants, and if the results were to come back as non-detects, that is positive evidence of no problem. We have lots of data like that here in the islands ... after taking into account data quality, we have positive evidence of no problem. The evidence for "no problem" is in the form of zeros (non-detects) but that's not "no data" and it isn't "uncertainty." It's just that we found nothing because nothing is there.
Finding positive evidence of nothing, however, gets transmogrified into "we have no data" or "we don't know" or "it's pristine" or "the results are inconclusive" or "we're uncertain" ... and before you know it, the precautionary principle gets invoked, and we get 300-foot buffers in rural areas and 50-foot buffers in urban ones. That's how that happens. The absence of a problem and lots of "zero data" gets manufactured into uncertainty requiring the greatest amount of precaution and the toughest land use restrictions. The cleanest areas get "protected" in the most severe way when any rational analysis would have deployed greater "protection" for the riskier exposure scenario. We have to put a stop to that BAS ackwards outcome by pointing out what the data are really saying.