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April 04, 2005

Wildlaw's White Paper comments
Sharon Friedman

Is anyone going to take on Wildlaw's analysis of the new planning rule? I'd like to see some discussion therein.

Posted by: Steve Funk | April 4, 2005 12:36 PM

I agree, Steve, and copied your comment to a new post because I felt it deserves a thread of its own.

Here's the link to the paper:

Note that part of their paper uses information found on the FS public EMS forum  http://www.ecosystem-management.org/forum/. some of the issues they mention about the availability of the ISO standard are addressed in some detail at http://www.ecosystem-management.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=14

Currently on that forum are in-depth discussions of the availability of the ISO standard, why the federal government and the FS use the ISO standard, and in another thread, examples of other agencies using EMS for land management.

Posted by Sharon Friedman on April 4, 2005 at 04:53 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: Dave Iverson

Three Nagging Concerns re: EMS and Planning.

First, I’m concerned that the Forest Service may not appreciate the challenge ahead in overcoming criticisms of “green washing,” made by Wildlaw and others. Some large corporate polluters use the EMS process to green up their image, without doing much to deal with their nasty habits. At least that is the claim made by many environmentalists.

Second, I’m concerned that the Forest Service will once-again take a system that could actually help the agency, and add so many bells and whistles to it that it will sink under its own weight. This nightmare of over-complexification is one that happens far too frequently in our agency.

Too many people with too much time on their hands think wrongly that their job is to design “professional quality work” for others. We fail to understand the power of what some call the “people design principle,” wherein people derive ownership and commitment by participating in the design and improvement of their work processes. Too often we make up overly-complex planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes for “somebody else to do” and wonder why the agency is mired in ‘process gridlock.’

Third, I have never believed that the EMS process could pass muster as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance. Perchance I am wrong on this, but I am afraid that in their zeal to simplify process, Forest Service folks may have added one more process on top of an already too complex set of planning and management processes. Here too my views are relatively close to those aired by the Wildlaw folks.

NEPA, arguably, isn’t that hard to comply with. At least one can easily craft an argument it wasn’t that hard to comply with when the Act was passed. What we’ve done to ourselves in the last 30 plus years may indeed have made the law unworkable, but I doubt it. NEPA isn’t that hard to comply with, that is, if the agency were ever to get serious about compliance instead of avoidance.

Dave Iverson | Apr 4, 2005 5:17:53 PM

Posted by: Tony Erba

An EMS is not meant to be a compliance tool for NEPA. It is set up for an organization to address environmental concerns that result from its actions and take measures to correct that. The ISO 14001 standard is basically a book separated into chapters to which that organization fills in the pages on what it will do to correct the environmental concern(s).

Whether an EMS becomes overly complex will be determined by whether a national forest decides to start small, learn the system, and grow with that learning. If it chooses to load the EMS with a bunch of stuff that have a low probability of execution, it will come back and bite them as determined by the auditing process. The EMS is a tool to help with on-the-ground concerns, not something to complete and claim "we did it". It is meant to help change an organization's thinking about its conduct and impact on the environment.

Given this auditing process, "greening" one's image seems like a short-term venture. I would guess people who dislike corporations to begin with do not believe that those same corporations actually give a hoot about their impact on the environment. Only time will tell as the EMS cycles continue to roll through time. Remember, one can only claim success with an EMS if it can demonstrated on the ground that continual improvement has occurred. If not, then it has been a lot of work for nothing.

Tony Erba | Apr 5, 2005 6:10:24 AM

Posted by: Tom Mitchell

I agree with Dave, NEPA isn't that hard to comply with nor is it difficult to win appeals and court cases when challenged on NEPA compliance. NEPA compliance and dealing with subsequent appeals/court challenges, though, often means that there is a need for prior planning and decision making; i.e., design, and analysis of a project 12 to 18 months prior to planned implementation and a decision 6 to 12 months prior to implementation. Such planning and decision making could be seen as "restricting" the Decision Maker's options and authority by restricting what (s)he can do this field season. Perhaps that is why some feel complying with NEPA is burdensome and hope that EMS is a magic bullet that will allow Decision Maker's total freedom in what they do this year with their budget to meet this year's targets and other pressures.

Fear of having line officers' options restricted may be an underlying, perhaps subconscious, reason for promoting "No Decisions" are made in Forest Plans.

Tom Mitchell | Apr 6, 2005 10:01:18 AM

Posted by: Sharon Friedman

EMS was never intended to replace NEPA. They fundamentally do two different things- NEPA analysis looks at something in advance to figure out where to put and how to design projects, and EMS is a tracking system to show that you followed what you said in your NEPA document (as well as other requirements)and you are using that info to continually improve your environmental performance. Check out adaptive management in the CEQ task force report http://ceq.eh.doe.gov/ntf/report/ and the two NEPA and EMS papers on the FS EMS website:http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/ems/nepa_ems.htm

I think because EMS is in the rule, it gets linked in people's minds with not having EISs or EAs for forest plans (CEs are part of the NEPA regs and of course are NEPA documents). But the "use a CE for plans argument" is not linked to EMS. The "use a CE for plans argument" is linked to deciding only to allow strategic decisions in forest plans- like desired conditions and objectives and not like final decisions that impact the environment like specific road closures, timber sales, minerals leases, special use permits, or other projects and activities. This idea of delinking strategic decisions from EAs and EISs is that the place to focus NEPA analysis is just before you do something (when you have all the latest science and monitoring info) and you are trying to decide when where what and how you are going to do it.

EMS was chosen to put in the rule because public comment showed concern that having more flexibility in the rule, while allowing more ability to change with increasing knowledge and science, would allow local officials to make decisions that would hurt the environment. The EMS is intended to provide that accountability for the way the environment is treated- to be the very public contract administration of the social contract in the strategic plan. But EMS is only a piece of accountability..

What is going to keep FS officials from doing bad environmental things include: 1) environmental statutes and regs such as ESA CWA and Clean Air Act, FIFRA, etc., etc.
2) Analysis through CEs EAs and EISs for every project or activity that has environmental effects and meets the requirements for being subject to NEPA. The same old timber sale, oil and gas, grazing, OHV EAs and EISs as before the new rule are still required.

And EMS, for aspects chosen to be of special importance to the public in terms of impact and severity of environmental consequences.

Again, EMS is required by a Clinton administration executive order. So it seems like by itself, it is considered to be innocuous at worst, pro-environmental at best. Perhaps EMS is experiencing "guilt by association," because it is in the rule with things some people don't like?


Sharon Friedman | Apr 8, 2005 9:28:34 AM

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