More Cowbell? How About More Acronyms Instead?

Our Unprotected Heritage: Whitewashing the Destruction of Our Cultural and Natural Environment was a really befuddling read for me. I have to agree with Tom King that NEPA, NHPA, and all their various acronyms and sections are all super confusing, full of jargon, and inaccessible. Even King is unable to make the chaos of environmental & cultural preservation laws understandable. Thus, I’m going to be really upfront with you all and admit that I’m not sure that I followed King’s explanation of heritage laws very well. I have more questions than ideas this week.

Why is it bad that consultants work in the interest of the people that pay them? As a historian who believes that all history is biased, I find it sort of naïve to assume that consultants would work against their employer’s interests unless there was a Godzilla-sized problem. King and I agree that there is a moral responsibility to try and counteract this bias. (164-166) However, it seems like King never puts forth an obvious solution other than “build [new] administrative systems”. (166)

Don’t all of King’s complaints come back to the fact that the general public doesn’t really care about heritage protection until it’s right in their backyard? In the final chapter, King discusses how Republicans “launched attacks on both NEPA and section 106 of NHPA.” (147) However, these lawmakers seem to be doing their jobs, as a majority of their constituents don’t really care about heritage preservation. Broken NEPA & NHPA laws seem like sort of a minor symptom of a much larger disease. I mean, this is sort of obvious from the first chapter when King talks about how quantifiable bright green laws (AKA more STEM-esque laws) have had more success than their light green (AKA social science) counter parts. (11-13)

Finally, how will the government save money by fixing the EIA and CRM? King attempts to answer this question in the Epilogue of the book by saying, “ …I didn’t—don’t—think the changes I propose should cost money; instead they ought to save it.” (171) Except that one of his proposed solutions is to have the federal agencies CEQ, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Fish & Wildlife Service) gather together with the public to discuss how to fix the current laws. (163) Having the agencies talk to one another and the public they serve is a great solution! However, it’s still going to cost the government in man hours (meeting & subsequent retraining of personnel) at the very least. And this is just one of King’s numerous solutions put forth. If King really wanted things to change he should, at the very least, lay down a rough draft of how it will save the government money. Decreasing wasteful spending speaks volumes to both the American public and its lawmakers, I promise.

One thought on “More Cowbell? How About More Acronyms Instead?”

  1. I got a fever…and the only prescription…is MORE cowbell!!
    God Bless you, Kaci.

    Anyway, I have to disagree with you on consultants. Of course a consultant working in the interest of their client is not always bad. Say a city hires a consulting firm to research the influence of a certain minority group on their downtown area. There is no conflict of interest. The city simply wants research, and they are willing to pay for that service. But the consultants mentioned in King’s books are not just researching facts and writing a story. They are determining the environmental or cultural impact of a project that their clients would like to see move forward. Huge conflict of interest! The client says, “I want to build in site A, but there was some old stuff that might have happened here once. Before I can build (and make money…which I’ll pass along to you) I need to know if that site really has any value. Can you help me out?” I think it’s a glaring problem. Consultants should not report to the person who wants to disrupt that site, but instead directly to the third party who determines the eligibility.

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