Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Lake Source Cooling Dilemma...

For starters, if you don't know what Lake Source Cooling is (I didn't until today), please visit this Cornell University's Lake Source Cooling website to learn the details because in order for me to explain it adequately I would have to plagiarize this website, anyway. 

Public participation plays a crucial role in environmental policy making thank to the stipulations of the NEPA and the Freedom of Information Act. Ithaca, NY has somewhat of a reputation for being enthusiastic (to say the least) public participants and Ithaca's reaction to LSC is a"real-life" example of environmental conflict and resolution (or not). 

A little over 10 years ago, when Cornell first began the campaign to teach the Ithaca community about LSC, as part of the campaign they held many public meetings for concerned citizens to ask questions and voice their opinions. Cornell may not have taken the best approach but really did try to include the public opinion in their planning. While most people in Ithaca saw the incredible benefits of LSC  and acknowledged that there would be very minimal, if any, negative environmental impacts, a small group emerged in staunch opposition. This group aimed to take over most of the meetings with objections and arguments and allowed the meeting organizers very little time to provide useful information. 

Eventually, Cornell received enough public support and the go-ahead from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The condition was that Cornell had to monitor two sites on the lake to see how LSC was affecting the lake and the various forms of life it sustains. Perhaps, it was overzealous, but Cornell offered to monitor not just two, but eight sites in the lake. Unfortunately for them, after a few years of data collection they realized that a lot of the data was redundant and they really only needed to monitor two sites, as the DEC had originally recommended. 

When Cornell proposed to reduce the monitoring sites to two, the LSC opposition was re-ignited under the mantra that Cornell was yet again trying to shirk its duties to the Ithaca community. In an effort at cooperation or negotiation, Cornell offered to give the money it would save (by only monitoring two sites) to the Water Resource Council to put towards creating and carrying out a strategic monitoring system that would cover the sites that Cornell would no longer be monitoring. In no mood to negotiate or cooperate for a variety of reasons, the opposition has not let up and Cornell's proposal is still awaiting a decision by the DEC. 

The question this information raises is, "How effective is public participation?" and "What are the motivations for public participation?" Much of the original concern and opposition to LSC was really useful to Cornell's planners and many community members asked crucial and useful questions. Now, however, there is some suspicion that the current opposition is still fighting just because they like the fight. Those at Cornell must certainly be feeling frustrated by this lengthy conflict and indignant at having such convincing scientific proof of the success of LSC challenged without any hope of resolution. 

The devil's advocate point is this: If there were no citizens fighting against such a huge entity, like Cornell, who would keep them honest? If it was easy for them to implement LSC and they were never questioned or challenged, would the powers that be at Cornell think less thoroughly about future projects. Would they assume just any old idea would fly? 

It's an interesting interplay of checks and balances in our system. As inefficient as public participation can be, if it was easy for people to implement environmental changes they wouldn't have to think so hard about making them as scientifically, economically, and socially airtight as possible. Furthermore, as much as everyone hates that one guy who will just not let it go, perhaps even he has a purpose in a situation like this. Do these people improve and strengthen the very programs they oppose?

No comments:

Post a Comment