Saturday, July 26, 2008

The NEPA way

The National Environmental Policy Act is one of history's great pieces of legislation, not only because of what it does, but how it goes about it. I wish we could apply the NEPA process to the way we enact other legislation.
NEPA requires that, before we do something with our environment, we very carefully study the effects it will have. NEPA doesn't say we can't rape and pillage the environment if the outcome is important enough, just that we need to know as much as we can about the consequences. Y'all ought to read NEPA if you haven't, it's not very long and even I can understand it.

One thing that NEPA requires is that before you do any thing, you must look at all the effects of that action - direct, indirect, cumulative, hidden. Another is that you must look at the effects of the action, the effects of not doing anything at all, and the effects of all reasonable alternatives.

Let's say we want to pass a law to help eke out our supplies of gasoline, so we hurry up and say that 10% of each gallon on gas has to be ethanol. STOP! What are the consequences? What are the alternatives? Are we aware, for instance, that some automobiles can't run on gas that has ethanol? How do we get the ethanol and how will that affect food crop production? Are there any reasonable alternatives?
The other thing that NEPA does is to force action groups to expand their focus. Liberals are focused on the liberal grail, conservatives on the conservative grail, usually with one eye on the ball and the other on the main chance. The medieval narrative "Pilgrim's Progress," presents a sequence in which people are raking in the muck around them (hence the term "muckrakers"), so intent on their tasks that they don't even see angels hovering above them with crowns of gold. All they have to do is look up....
Liberals and conservatives are born, not made. We can't, and shouldn't, change that. But we can and should, whenever possible, try to make our lawmakers see the whole elephant (How's that for a subtle and slightly mixed metaphor?)
Politicans aren't going to think unless they have to. They certainly are not going to try to see it from the other side. Maybe it's time we made them. So, I propose a NLOA - National Legislative Observation Act, which extends the philosophy of NEPA to making any decision.

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