Shoshone News-Press, Wednesday, October 9, 2002, p. 12.
Survey sheds light on basin views, attitudes
by Ron Roizen
SNRC Science Committee
Shoshone Natural Resource Coalition conducted a survey in February, 2002 -- gathering public comment on EPA's then-proposed plans for the basin. The full-page survey questionnaire was published in the News-Press days before the closing of EPA's Feb. 26 comment period. The questionnaire invited citizens to clip and mail the completed page to EPA headquarters in Seattle. EPA released this survey's results in its Record of Decision published last month. EPA treated each survey question as an individual comment and offered responses accordingly. Both the survey's results and the EPA's replies offer interesting reading indeed.
Results showed, for example, that the great majority of basin respondents regard EPA as unresponsive to "inputs from basin citizens and groups." EPA's response to this finding included the following: "The selected remedy reflects a tremendous amount of input from community and regulatory stakeholders, and is consistent in structure with the recommendations of the consensus-building process led by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality."
|Q1:||The expansion of the Bunker Hill Superfund "Box" to the Coeur d'Alene Basin is a good idea.||81%||5||2||6||6||100%|
|Q2:||The EPA's 30-year interim Proposed Plan deserves our community's support.||81%||4||2||8||5||100%|
|Q3:||The Coeur d'Alene Basin has a significant lead-related human health problem.||74%||10||1||7||7||99%|
|Q4:||EPA's aim to remediate 900 or more private yards in the basin is a good plan.||70%||13||4||10||4||101%|
|Q5:||I support the expenditure of 81 million dollars or more on yard remediation in the Basin.||81%||2||5||8||3||99%|
|Q6:||Fish populations in the South Fork are on the increase.||8%||7||27||34||23||99%|
|Q7:||EPA has been a good neighbor.||68%||15||8||9||*||100%|
|Q8:||EPA's planning process has been responsive to inputs from Basin citizens and groups.||76%||8||7||8||1||100%|
|Q9:||EPA has been responsive to criticisms of its science relating to human health and the environment.||77%||9||5||9||1||101%|
|Q10:||EPA and Region 10 are trustworthy.||74%||10||10||6||*||100%|
|Q11:||EPA statements to the national media are an accurate reflection of the environmental health and human health in the Basin.||77%||10||3||11||*||101%|
|Q12:||I support the carrying out of a review of EPA Basin science by the National Academy of Sciences.||10%||4||10||23||54||101%|
|Q13:||I support postponing the issuance of a Record of Decision on the Basin until the National Academy of Sciences review is completed.||6%||6||14||13||61||100%|
In effect, EPA rejected the survey's negative assessment of its responsiveness and substituted its own measures of that quality in the survey's place. By extension, EPA positioned itself as the final arbiter of judgments of its performance in the valley -- thus, and ironically, demonstrating the very unresponsiveness to public input that the surveyed respondents had indicated.
EPA's reply comment noted their so-called consensus-building process. How much popular consensus was actually achieved via EPA's efforts?
According to the SNRC survey's 221 respondents:
- Fully 86 percent of the survey's respondents disagreed that expanding the Bunker Hill Box was "a good idea" (Q1);
- 85 percent disagreed that the EPA's 30-year interim Proposed Plan deserved community support (Q2);
- 85 percent disagreed with the proposition that the CDA basin had a significant lead-related human health problem (Q3);
- 83 percent disagreed that EPA's intention to remediate 900-plus yards in the basin was "a good plan" (Q4); and, finally,
- 84 percent disagreed with the expenditure of $81M or more on yard remediation in the Basin (Q5).
Moreover, among those disagreeing the great majority of responses strongly disagreed. These findings suggest that a powerful and consistent consensus has indeed been built in the basin since EPA announced its Superfund-expanding plan -- though, of course, it is not the consensus EPA had in mind.
Not the least remarkable reply EPA offered to a survey finding was that relating to whether the expansion of the Superfund "Box" to the Coeur d'Alene Basin was "a good idea" (Q1) -- 86 percent of respondents disagreed -- and 81% "strongly disagreed." EPA's reply suggests the question was based on a misconception -- in fact, as EPA described, no expansion of the original Superfund site had taken place. The full text of this EPA response merits being quoted in full:
"Contrary to the comment [i.e., the survey item], there was no "expansion" of the site. The site was listed on the national Priorities List (NPL) in 1983 and has a CERCLIS identification number IDD048340921. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit explained in its ruling in United States v. ASARCO Inc., 214 F.3d 1104 (9th Cir. 2000), EPA's 1983 listing of the Site did not set forth site boundaries, consistent with EPA policy. In its decision, the Ninth Circuit Court vacated a decision by the district court limiting the scope of the NPL facility to the 21-square-mile Bunker Hill Box. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court held that, under CERCLA, any challenge to the validity of an NPL listing, including areas of the Basin outside of the Bunker Hill Box, must be brought in the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia. None of the mining company defendants in the litigation opted to pursue their challenge to the scope of the NPL listing in that court. Thus, EPA has, consistent with CERCLA, the NCP and EPA policy, included within its investigation all areas of the Coeur d'Alene Basin where mining contamination has come to be located within the NPL facility."
In this reply comment, EPA substitutes an arcane sense of bureaucratic logic and practice for ordinary reality. The agency in effect denies all events and indicators that a Superfund expansion has taken place -- including, for example, (a) the long and expensive RI/FS and human health studies that went into the production of EPA's new ROD and the arduous "notice and comment" periods associated with that process; (b) the creation of an OU3 where before there were only an OU1 and an OU2 element of the previous ROD; (c) Region 10's own assurances that "the box" would never be expanded; and, finally, (d) the very existence of the 9th Circuit Court opinion that EPA's reply refercnces, which opinion was itself the result of mining companies' efforts to question the legality of the expansion.
Beyond the license that this EPA reply takes, the comment's text in effect asserts that because the mining companies did not pursue their case to the D.C. Circuit Court, therefore the EPA could enjoy the benefit of an essentially unresolved set of legal issues left hanging in the agency's favor. To my ear, at least, there is a juvenile and self-congratulatory ring to this reply comment -- vaguely reminiscent of the schoolyard bully saying, "Na-na-na-na-na, we get to do what we wa-ant!"
The remaining replies to the survey's findings also bear close reading and reflection. The full texts of EPA's replies to these survey items can be found online at http://www.roizen.com/ron/EPA-survey-and-replies.html.
Together, the table and EPA's set of reply comments tell a story of strong popular disapproval and a federal agency staunchly unwilling or woefully unable to read public sentiment at face value.