2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 3 Jul 2003 14:00:57 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: RE: [CPEO-MEF] Credibility Gap and RABs
The following response was posted by Saul Bloom
People's frustrations with RABs are well deserved. It is important to
keep in mind that RABs were created because the military was unwilling
to support more democratic and publicly accountable community bodies to
advise them on the cleanup of their bases. It is also important to note
that the military defunded their base closure federal advisory
committee, the Defense
Environmental Response Task Force, in part because RAB members
participating in the National RAB Caucus started attending their
meetings and provided testimony that was critical of the handling of
military base cleanups. From
the outset, the military wanted to the a vehicle for spreading their
good news as opposed to providing a critical community oriented look at
their environmental programs.

Even in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have a number of good RABs,
community participation is not always welcome. Just today, Keith Forman,
the Base Environmental Coordinator for the Hunters Point Shipyard and
military co-chair of the Shipyard RAB, demonstrated clear hostility
toward public involvement by beginning a meeting of the Shipyard's Base
Team technical committee with the ejection of staff from Arc Ecology -
even though we were there at the invitation of the representative of the
San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. Sensitive issues
like significant PCB contamination in a body of water utilized by a poor
minority community for fishing and recreation makes the military
While it is nwise, it is not uncommon for a BEC to want to keep the
public and public interest groups at an arms length from the internal

However the poor judgment, petty behavior, disrespect of state agencies,
and blatant hostility to the public of some BECs notwithstanding, RABs
can succeed in having meaningful impact on the cleanup process,
advancing community concerns over the provincial interests of the
military. Indeed, the Hunters Point RAB is a good example of a RAB
succeeding despite
ongoing adversity. Here are some pointers. Lenny's mentioned them here
as have I and others in the past.

ONE: The most important thing to keep in mind is that RABs are a tool,
not an answer.  RABs provide a forum for discussing the issues
associated with the CERCLA cleanup of a base. This forum can be a very
effective tool for educating the military and environmental regulators
about community concerns and interests. The forum can also be an
occasional means to obtain an
agreement over a course of action BUT there is no guarantee that a good
and reasonable argument will prevail because of the numerous and
particular interests financial and otherwise of the military and the

TWO: RABs work best when they are supported by active and parallel
community education and organizing. RABs that are supported by active
local organizations have larger public turn-outs, are more effective at
bringing important public issues forward, and are more visible therefore
subject to greater political scrutiny.

THREE: Another way supportive parallel community organizations can help
is through the obtaining of independent environmental technical and
legal assistance. Arc Ecology and other organizations have provided
technical support to community-based organizations and RABs for almost a
decade. This support has frequently aided in the debate over assessment
and cleanup strategy during RAB and BCT meetings.  Similarly legal
support has enabled community based organizations to take actions in
support of a RAB's concern or position, lending it more power in the
negotiations over
remedies. Also the legal support these organizations can acquire often
can help out with individual cases of harassment by contractors or
military personnel. Harassment techniques such as the following of cars,
meetings with individual's employers, and goading at meetings often
become less frequent as the sources of those actions become aware of a
legal consequence.

FOUR: RABs work best when they minimize the amount of time spent on
administrative debates. Administrative arguments can be important,
however they leave a RAB vulnerable to adjournment and RAB community
members are best off when they keep an eye out for when these
discussions begin to dominate the meetings. Ill intended BECs have on
more than one
occasion fomented administrative infighting among RAB members to keep
the public off the central point of a RABs concern - cleanup. However
the problem doesn't end there, if the distraction continues long enough
and  becomes disruptive to the forum process a BEC can use it as an
excuse for shutting down the RAB itself; this is in part what happened
to the RABs at McClellan AFB and Fort Ord.  Well organized RABs are able
to contain these debates mostly in their committee structure which
limits the amount of time taken out of the normal agenda.

FIVE: Keeping in touch with other RABs is another important mechanism.
Before the Caucus lost its independent funding, it provided a good
mechanism for RAB members to share their stories and check the
information provided by their bases.  The model is still useful.  This
list serve and others can help individual RAB members sort out the facts
regarding RAB guidance and
regulatory requirements.

The bottom line is that RABs can work, but like building a more
responsive government generally, they take a lot of work. Some in the
military are banking on the difficulty turning away people, others hope
that the public will tough it out because they can then argue more
effectively internally. Some folks have argued for doing away with RABs
and substituting another process. While I am all in favor of creating
alternative processes, I am not currently inclined to do away with RABs
as well. It seems to me the more tools we have in the tool box, the more
likely it is we will get the job done eventually.

Saul Bloom

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