2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 1 Jul 2003 14:14:22 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] How a RAB Works- The Campaign to Clean the Moffett Wetlands
The following report can be viewed online as a Word document at:
How a RAB Works:
The Campaign to Clean the Moffett Wetlands
by Lenny Siegel
Center for Public Environmental Oversight
June, 2003

The growth of Restoration Advisory Boards (RABs), Site-Specific Advisory
Boards (SSABs), and Community Advisory Groups is a bold experiment, not
just in “public participation,” but in direct democracy. These bodies
give the people most affected by both contamination and cleanup
activities an opportunity to understand and shape investigation,
remediation, and increasingly, long-term stewardship. The Defense
Departments sponsors 299 RABs throughout the United States. The Energy
Department established 12 SSABs. And U.S. EPA and state regulatory
agencies sponsor a growing, but uncounted number of advisory groups of
various names and origin.

Communities and agencies have come together to form such boards to
oversee a range of environmental activities, but by far, most are
organized to monitor and influence cleanup decisions at hazardous waste
sites. Compared to the public meetings and the comment-and-response
process built into most cleanup programs—known unsympathetically as
“decide-announce-defend”—advisory groups have been an enormous success.
The public has continuing access to site information and cleanup
proposals, and the responsible parties (polluters) and regulatory
agencies benefit from their constructive advice.

Still, many—perhaps a majority of—advisory  group members are
frustrated. Month after month they attend meetings, hear briefings, and
peruse lengthy documents. They offer suggestions and criticisms, but
often the decision-makers ignore their input. As I explain to community
members of such boards, “advisory” is their middle name. They are
volunteers, with no legal authority. Legal authority belongs to
appointees and staff in government agencies—though often those agencies
argue over who has ultimate decision-making authority.

Undoubtedly, agencies could improve the way they organize, support, and
listen to their advisory groups. But I have found, in consulting
activists in scores of communities over the past dozen years, that board
members can overcome their subordinate roles and get the agencies to do
what they want, if they better understand how advisory boards work. That
is, if community members view participation in advisory boards as merely
one step in community empowerment, if they see their advice as part of
broader organizing campaigns, they can not only get officials to listen.
If they play their cards right, the can force the agencies to change
decisions that the community doesn’t like.

This has happened more than once at Moffett Field, in my community of
Mountain View, California. The Technical Review Committee established by
the Navy in 1990 served as the model for the SSABs recommended by the
Federal Facilities Environmental Restoration Dialogue Committee in 1993,
and the RAB established in 1994-5 continues to serve as an example of
constructive and effective community involvement. Most recently, the
neighbors of Moffett Field forced the Navy and its regulators to abandon
incomplete cleanup plans which would have prevented the tidal
restoration of the Moffett wetlands.

This report explains how our community undertook a multi-year campaign
to that end, and it draws a series of lessons from our experience. Many
of those lessons should prove useful elsewhere.

The complete report can be viewed at:

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