03 January 2007

Process not product?

Former House speaker Gail Phillips thinks Alaskans should just "trust the process" on the Pebble prospect and let state agencies do their job:

One thing I have learned through my experiences is the importance of established public processes.

Alaskans should be proud of the environmental permitting processes we have in place -- processes that ensure protection of our valuable fisheries, wildlife and subsistence resources.
It's a fair point and a good one but she fails to consider one crucial point - what if the process is stacked and biased to begin with?

It's a hard point to prove but I think a compelling argument can be made that in many instances, it's relatively easy for folks with power to subvert and/or take over an allegedly fair and impartial public process.

For instance, what happens when a mining company uses its extensive financial resources to assemble hundreds of pages of supporting documents that "prove" the project is environmentally responsible? The company has the money to hire all sorts of environmental experts and assemble reams of data but data can prove anything ("lies, damned lies, and statistics") and there's always an expert to say something.

Or what happens when a company manages to use its extensive financial resources to assemble lots of supporting testimony during the public comment period from businesses that stand to benefit from the project?

Or what happens when a company can hire someone to manage the permitting process, thus knowing when deadlines are for the process, ensuring as much as is favorable and as little as is harmful happens.

I'd be a lot more willing to buy the argument that we should rely on the process to protect us if everyone equally knew the scope of the process, had equal standing, and equal knowledge. But that so rarely happens because the relative balance of power (often dependent on financial resources) affects the fairness of the process and the product the process produces. Thus, dissidents can be legitimately forced to look outside the process at times and use whatever tools may be at their disposal.

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