EPA ‘Public Listening Session’ Turns Into Sierra Club Talking Session

An essay by Taylor Smith on Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That? blog caught my attention: “EPA ‘Public Listening Session’ Turns Into Sierra Club Talking Session.”

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/20/epa-public-listening-session-turns-into-sierra-club-talking-session/#more-97789

An excerpt:

Although the EPA hearing yielded the same mix of speakers, this time I noticed they were all wearing green Sierra Club “Climate Action Now” shirts.

The reason for this, I would later learn, was that the Sierra Club had mobilized hundreds of activists, transported them via bus (I presume of the fossil-fuel powered kind), prepped their testimonies the night before, and completely dominated the morning speaker slots. (There were several coal industry representatives in the morning, and a few other dissenters, including Heartland Policy Adviser Paul Driessen, who covered his experience here). By the afternoon, the Sierra Club had completely monopolized the speaking time (at least in the room I was in).

After the hearing, everyone was invited to a “Climate Social”  held at the Sierra Club’s office  with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, and Illinois state Sen. Michael Frerichs.

Now maybe it’s just me, but I felt a slight level of discomfort when I saw a single organization dominate a “public” hearing in the way that they did. I don’t care what the organization is or what they say they stand for, because if their 2011 listed revenue is over $97 million, then you know not all of it could have fallen in their laps from heaven.

The session concerned EPA carbon regulations, but I have attended forestry-oriented public meetings and listening sessions at which most, if not all, attendees seemed to represent the same position, if not the same organization. I’ve been to others at which everyone seemed independent. In this case, the Sierra Club didn’t do anything wrong; I’ll bet that industry groups have done the same at hearings on various issues. It’s a bit like asking its members to sign a form letter and e-mail it to an agency. But I’m curious about the effect of “packing” public meetings like this. Agencies these days often count and report the number of “original” letters and form letters for project or plan proposals. Do agencies somehow give more or less weight to public comments from attendees organized or transported by a single group?

Note that Driessen was one of the speakers and he certainly wasn’t wearing a Sierra Club shirt. So, Smith was incorrect — they were not “all wearing green Sierra Club “Climate Action Now” shirts.” The photo on the blog shows a lot of those green shirts in the audience.

6 Comments

  1. Steve – Thanks for sharing. I think it’s unfortunate that the EPA chose to hold such on onerous hearing, especially when so many options and tools are available to open the lines of communication and fully engage a more diverse public. When you ask “…I’m curious about the effect of “packing” public meetings like this. Agencies these days often count and report the number of “original” letters and form letters for project or plan proposals. Do agencies somehow give more or less weight to public comments from attendees organized or transported by a single group?,” my first questions would be “what is the EPA hoping to get out of this meeting?” and “how are they planning to use the input?” After finding some background (here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/epa-carbon-emissions_n_4148012.html), it sounds like they were looking for useful suggestions and strategies to form the new regs, however, it sounds like they ended up receiving more general approval/disapproval comments. I would hope that they were at least listening more for what was said (and what types of different things were said), then who/how many said what.

  2. So, what happens when one group comes up with a website that offers a quick and easy way to comment on stuff, randomizing the the text enough to make it a “unique” response? Certainly, someone has thought about doing just that, and it shouldn’t be hard to do the programming. Would an Agency be able to lump such comments together, as has been done in the past, making it into just a single “response”? Also, there should be some way to verify that multiple comments cannot be made by individuals, in an effort to “pump up their stats”.

    And, isn’t this the same thing that opponents of collaboration have been accusing collaborative groups of doing? It should not be about numbers, and should be about substance. Multiple comments saying the same thing should be counted only as one comment, and this should go for BOTH sides of an issue. I’m usually amused when one side blasts the other side for using the same “dirty tricks” tactics used in the past. When both sides use those same tactics, integrity suffers. To some, consensus and compromise are the worst outcomes of all.

  3. “It should not be about numbers, and should be about substance.”

    Larry,
    What if a taxpayer signs her name to a succinct statement from an ENGO she is a member of, the substance of which she agrees with, and sees no point of elucidating upon because it fits her sentiments exactly? (Your protest then, concerns her choice to exercise her freedom of speech.)

    You go to assert, “And, isn’t this the same thing that opponents of collaboration have been accusing collaborative groups of doing?”

    Are you serious Larry?
    Collaborative groups are, more often than not, devolved collections of financially conflicted, unelected, self-selecting, exclusive, local, special interests seeking to legitimate deliberate end runs of environmental law, privatization of public lands, corporate outsourcing of government functions and the greater public process of all owners of public lands across the nation.

    Just as you complain about the rights of a citizen to avail themselves of the judiciary as it functions within the checks and balances of power, your grievances continue to be squarely targeting the fundamental precepts and legal mechanisms of our constitutional republic.

    • There you go again, using that broad brush to insult all kinds of people involved in wanting a say in how forests are managed, David. Preservationist groups would LOVE to “stack the deck”, if they could. Why should several eco-groups be able to gain as many spots as they need to affect outcomes, when their core beliefs are exactly the same? As long as all groups, including local interests, get a chance to have their opinions and beliefs considered, I am happy. If a group’s message is carefully considered and then rejected, so be it! That seems to be how most collaboratives are working, these days. After all, would we actually need a collaborative group, if our forests didn’t need any new plans or actions? Most of the general public is happy that more than just foresters and ologists are making the plans, and that is enough for them. Of course, extremists are saying that all collaboration is bad, because of their “whatever happens” mindset.

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