King’s book was impressively straight-forward. In line with his realistic approach, comes a pessimistic reality: even though there are impressive sounding federal laws, they fail to protect cultural, historical, and environmental sites in America. I particularly liked King’s comments about the contractor’s approach regarding the EIS for building a parallel set of railroad tracks at Abo Pass, New Mexico. The contractor felt that destroying historical and cultural sites would not have an adverse effect so long as they excavated and documented them beforehand. King explains “If I burn your house to the ground, I’ve adversely affected it, no matter how well I may record it first.” Obviously there is a disconnect in the formation of EIS documents. Granted, this EIS did explain that specific pictographs would be avoided, but I am completely shocked that this is entire approach falls within the legal limit of environmental/historical/cultural preservation. Similarly, the contractors failed to even consider visual effects, audible effects, the effects of railroad use in general…the list goes on and on. This contractor is definitely going to get hired for future EIS formations; he plays the game to a tee! He says all of the right things, contacts all the right people, and still ensures that the project can go on, all the while explaining how they are working to preserve the historical/environmental/cultural aspects of the site they intend to destroy.
King discusses the issue surrounding comprehensibility, and I wish he would have explored this problem with more depth. Regardless of how deep he may have explored comprehensibility, I feel that it is a huge issue with grave implications. If EIS, NEPA, NRHP etc. forms are fully comprehensive and taken completely seriously, nothing will ever get built. If these forms are not comprehensive enough, nothing will ever be denied. I have no idea where the middle road lies, but I would argue that a middle road needs to be developed and adhered to. This links back to the issues between “bright green” and “light green” laws. What is the point of having laws that are rarely able to be enforced? While “light green” laws certainly look good on the books, appease environmentalists, and convey an environmentally friendly atmosphere to onlookers, they do little more.
Even “bright green” laws (and statutes) fail to be enforced on a regular basis. King explains how the EPA systematically undercut its own standards in order to not have to deal with the Abo Pass railroad, automobile, gas etc. catastrophe. If the EPA, the highest environmental agency in the bureaucratic mess that is Washington D.C. is purposefully finding ways to undercut its statutory responsibilities, I am afraid that I must agree with the author, saving historic, cultural, and environmental sites is a lost cause. If I had to site a key problem, it would be the bureaucratic mess that exists. King’s book is inundated with acronyms of government agencies; the whole thing reads like Campbell’s Alphabet Soup. There are so many agencies with competing interests and varying degrees of oversight and legislative teeth that few things ever get done. As King passionately explains, reform, restructuring, revision of laws, restoration of bureaucratic roles, and a widespread governmental clean up needs to occur. King adds that the Constitution must also be amended. While I (surprise, surprise) feel that this is overkill, I do concede that a constitutional amendment would fix the problem and ensure a feasible process to a beneficial solution.
I am currently working on developing curriculum regarding the intersection between politics and environmentalism. One of the articles I am basing my lesson plans on is an impassioned speech by Richard Gottlieb decrying presidential elections and the lack of change they bring to the environmental arena. King’s memo to Obama parallels Gottlieb’s hope for true change. Unfortunately for King and Gottlieb, I am afraid that Obama, environmentally speaking, has followed most of his modern predecessors. Save Carter (who actively fought to clean up the environment), Reagan (who actively worked to limit all aspects of government intervention, the environment included), and Nixon (who began his presidency as a staunch advocate for environmental change but ended his presidency wondering where his environmental hopes turned to governmental impediments) no president has done much of anything to truly alter the environmental scene. While Obama has a few years to change my mind, he has, so far, failed to enact positive change with respect to the environment.