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Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

In "Wildland Fire" (FORUM, Spring 1999),Christopher Howes clearly explains how agencies are getting more adept at working together in the rural/wildland urban interface during fire emergencies. We’ve come a long way since the 1970s, when many different state, local, and federal agencies arrived at the site of a large wildfire incident and couldn’t identify who was in charge or worse, speak the same language. That is, they couldn’t communicate because there was not a single, overriding organizational system.

The Incident Command System has changed all that. It enables federal, state, county, and municipal agencies to speak the same language and work together to suppress dangerous wildland fires.

An essential question in these critical incidents is: Who’s in charge? Jurisdictions are defined by various federal and state laws. Incident command teams, such as the Southern Command Blue Team Howes was assigned to, are organized across the country with members from multiagency jurisdictions. Membership is voluntary and most team members leave a regular job back home. In most cases the ordering agency, for example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pays the bill.

The beauty of the Incident Command System and its teams is that they are so effective that they are deployed, not only for fire emergencies, but also in other catastrophic incidents such as hurricanes and large-scale search and rescue efforts. For example, this system was used in the tragic Oklahoma Federal Building bombing search and rescue effort.

Howes added a personal, human touch to his account of a serious event. Fire fighters like Howes, the Florida Division of Forestry, and various county and city fire departments have all exhibited outstanding commitment to public service. The citizens of Florida and the media were extremely appreciative of the "outsiders" who came to live and work in Florida for a good part of the summer of 1998.

Lewis Kearney
Incident Commander
Blue Incident Command Team
Cherokee National Forest
Cleveland, Tennessee

 

Heat of Action

In "Wildland Fire" (FORUM, Spring 1999), firefighter Christopher T. Howes provides a vivid account of the experiences of a professionally trained forest fire fighter. In my experience, the situation when a fire flares up is much like being on the front line in a war zone. Imagine the sound of the fire, the loud drone of planes and helicopters flying low overhead dropping water and flame retardant, people shouting directions, heavy equipment grinding and straining, trees snapping, smoke suffocating your every breath, the heat of the fire engulfing every inch of your skin that is exposed or concealed by choking flame retardant suits, ashes and smoke getting in your burning eyes while you are digging or chopping or beating a fire, your body worn to a frazzle and dying of thirst while you’re weighed down by a backpack of equipment. Suddenly you have to move fast to get to safety, to help someone else, or to move to a section of the fire that just jumped the line. When a moving fire engulfs a heavy or highly volatile fuel load, it can flare up into a huge conflagration creating wind convection that can bend trees at right angles and send large, hot ashes up high and across fire lines, causing spot fires.

The desperation of the deer in Howes’ account is common to all forms of life. Wildlife don’t have a plan. Animals are just panicked, exhausted, and completely abnormal in behavior. Sometimes it seems that wildlife and people are one in their misery, and all rules of predation, fear of one another, or curiosity give way to coping with the common enemy, fire. I’ve seen this happen with bears, elk, deer, snakes, rabbits, coyotes, and raccoons.

Once, while fighting a fire in a remote part of mountainous Montana, I sat down in exhaustion only to have a bear, obviously exhausted too, sit down about 30 yards away to somehow collect enough energy to go on. After about five minutes, we both got up and went on with our work, hardly giving each other a glance. At the time, there was too much going on to ponder the situation. Afterwards, it was amazing to recollect. It’s painful and gruesome to see wildlife that didn’t make it—heavily charred remains, now and then with a little spark of a futile pain-filled life, soon destined to end.

Howes captures that unforgettable condition when firefighters are exhausted, breathing charred woodland smoke and trying to pay attention to all that’s going on while at the same time worrying about safety and watching out for the other guy, hoping he’s watching out for you. His description of the Hot Shot crews is very accurate. These crews have everyone’s respect and reverence on the line. They are the first to get to a fire, and they work under the most dangerous conditions in extreme adversity for very long periods of time. Calling in the Hot Shots is like calling in the Marines.

While this article is not the typical, policy-focused piece we’ve come to expect in FORUM, it serves to remind us that policy decisions involve more than interagency coordination, fire-fighting preparedness, homeowner liabilities, and patterns of residential development in the interface. Fire can’t exist in a vacuum. Likewise, fire policy can’t be made in a vacuum. Howes’ article reminds us that fire has a human face.

Jack Ranney
Research Scientist
Energy, Environment
and Resources Center
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

 

New Prescription for Environmental Health

Don Ritter and F. Scott Bush in "From Master to Mentor" (FORUM, Winter 1998) outline the key changes required if we are to succeed in achieving the highest level of sustainable ecological and health protection that the American people are willing to pay for. I applaud their diagnosis of what is wrong, their prescription for improvement, and the National Environmental Policy Institute’s efforts to make the vision they present a reality.

The record is overflowing with examples of missed opportunities. The problem has been to get collective agreement on the statutory changes the authors suggest. One reason collective agreement has been so hard to acquire is that we operate in a political system where special interests capable of blocking change are loath to surrender current advantages for the uncertain prospect of future gain to themselves. This is unlikely to change, at least soon.

We need to pursue aggressive efforts for statutory reform, but in the meantime, much can be accomplished by pressing harder on the boundaries of the statutes that we have. This requires that the regulators, the regulated, and affected citizens take a careful look at the results they want and the best options for getting them within the broad confines of operative statutes. Then they can and should guide their behavior by what statutes do not clearly forbid rather than by what past practice suggests. The courts can play their appointed role and determine whether the more effective or the lower cost solutions transcend the boundary of the allowable. Court reversal of a manifestly beneficial result then is an unmistakable call for statutory reconsideration and possible change.

Substituting an approach guided by results for the current deficient approach guided by process requires the good science that Ritter and Bush promote. Further, though, it requires leadership that places environmental risk reduction above legal risk avoidance. It requires leadership that promotes and defends creative solutions to real-world problems. And it requires an informed public that judges those results against those from the old way of doing business, not against perfection.

While such leadership cannot be expected to arise everywhere, power to make environmental decisions is devolving to the states and localities as Ritter and Bush point out. As it does, more and more opportunities for environmental results-based decisions are arising and being taken. These need to be welcomed, examined, and, as appropriate, used as the basis for the broader reform the authors espouse. Indeed, there is a statutory basis for doing just that in the federal Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.

The vision that Ritter and Bush present should be our long-term goal. But progress can be made along the way if environmental authorities focus on their ultimate purpose. By doing so, they will not only improve ecological and health conditions in the here and now but will also advance overall reform of our environmental system.

Milton Russell
Senior Fellow
Joint Institute for Energy
and Environment
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

 

Water Quality Trading

In "Charting a New Course: The Role of Pollutant Trading in Improving Water Quality" (FORUM, Winter 1998), Richard Kashmanian and my colleague Mahesh Podar present a well-written introduction to effluent trading.

Michigan is developing its own statewide water-quality trading program. Unlike effluent trading, which shifts pollutant loadings within a body of water, Michigan’s program will directly benefit water quality by retiring a percentage of those reductions, or credits, that are traded. Only surplus reductions greater than required by federal and state regulations can be traded.

In its Draft Framework for Watershed-Based Trading (May 1996), the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that trading occur in the context of a total maximum daily load (TMDL). This closed cap-and-trade approach has been implemented in several other states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts. Under this type of program, the TMDL and the point wasteload and nonpoint source loading allocations constitute the trading cap and baselines. This approach has been very successful in the acid rain trading program under the federal Clean Air Act.

Michigan’s voluntary water-quality trading program also includes provisions for open trading. Open trading has the greatest potential for maintaining water quality standards in developing watersheds and achieving early reductions under a pre-TMDL or phased-TMDL strategy. Under Michigan’s framework, point source water-quality-based effluent limitations and existing practices for unregulated nonpoint sources establish the respective trading baselines. Since these limitations are based on the assimilative capacity of the waters where trading would occur, this is being proposed to EPA as a TMDL-equivalent approach for improving water quality.

Trading programs raise many policy and design issues. Creating an institutional framework other than permits for urban and agricultural nonpoint source accountability is one of the most challenging. Public participation and real-time access to information necessary for trading to occur is also vital for a successful program. Program design elements must provide equity, equivalence, and assurances that trading occurs in an environmentally sound manner.

It has been a pleasure to work with Mr. Podar and others at EPA on the complex regulatory issues that trading raises. My experience serving on the Cherry Creek Colorado National Review Panel and the Kalamazoo Water Quality Trading Demonstration Project Steering Committee in Michigan has provided practical insights into what must be done for trading to be a successful element of community-based watershed management.

Additional information on Michigan’s Water Quality Trading Program Initiative may be found on the Internet at <www.deq.state.mi.us/swq/trading/temp5x.htm>.

David Batchelor
Program Specialist
Surface Water Quality Division
Dept. of Environmental Quality
Lansing, Michigan

 

A Maquiladora Near You

The abuses of Mexican workers by U.S. companies documented in "Cross-border Blues" (FORUM, Spring 1999) might remind us of our good fortune of living in the United States, especially since we believe there are effective laws and enforcement to prevent similar abuses here. But in fact many of the abuses highlighted by Jim Sessions and the international fact-finding delegation to Tehuacán, Mexico, also occur here in the state of Tennessee and across the nation.

Even before the North American Free Trade Agreement, poor working conditions and wages in the agricultural sector were common. Many of Tennessee’s agricultural workers migrated from Mexico and Guatemala to work in conditions similar to those in the maquiladoras of Tehuacán. These immigrant farm workers are often willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions because they’re used to the lower standards prevalent in theThird World.

U.S. shoppers enjoy the least expensive fruits and vegetables in the developed world. Although undocumented illegal aliens provide much of the labor that produces this bounty, the majority of farmworkers are either U.S. citizens or legal aliens in the United States. Regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, thousands of workers and their families are unable to find inexpensive, good quality housing. As a result, most workers live crammed together in run-down mobile homes or in small, makeshift homes with holes in the floors and without proper drainage.

Generations of farmworkers have migrated to Tennessee and states further north. Many second- generation farm workers earn the same rate for piece work that their parents earned over ten years ago, often well below federal minimum wage.

Such workers are more easily exploited by their employers since they are often isolated from the mainstream because of language and cultural differences. In addition, many have little education or are illiterate, and they are ignorant of labor laws and are inexperienced in methods to protect themselves from abuse.

U.S. government reports have documented an oversupply of agricultural labor in the United States. This fact increases workers’ fears of complaining to or about their employers. Workers know they can be easily replaced. In fact, that is currently happening, regardless of a worker’s immigration status or an existing employment contract with temporary foreign agricultural workers.

Increased enforcement of immigration laws by the Immigration and Naturalization Service has convinced many growers to participate in the U.S. government’s temporary program for foreign agricultural workers. Commonly referred to as the H-2A program after the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act under which it is established, this program permits growers to import foreign labor so long as the grower can show there is a labor shortage. Unfortunately, the U. S. Department of Labor has not dedicated sufficient resources to adequately monitor and enforce the applicable federal regulations.

Growers prefer foreign laborers over domestic workers for a number of reasons. Most importantly, foreign workers are far less likely than U.S. workers to complain about substandard wages or working conditions. In the case of H-2A workers, growers obtain a workforce bound to a specific job. H-2A workers are allowed to work in the United States only for the grower who sought their admission. Thus, if an employer underpays or mistreats them, H-2A workers may not exercise the same prerogative to change jobs that is available to U.S. citizens. An H-2A worker who complains about the job is subject to repatriation without cause by the employer, and the employer can obtain a replacement H-2A worker upon request. Repatriated workers normally are blacklisted and barred from further participation in the H-2A program. Essentially, the H-2A program permits growers to obtain a captive workforce highly unlikely to complain about substandard wages or working conditions.

It is appalling that U.S. companies are allowed to exploit Mexican workers in Mexico. It is also unfortunate that Mexican workers and U.S. workers of Mexican descent endure the same shameless repression by U.S. companies in the United States.
 
William L. Francisco
Farmworker Attorney
Legal Services
of Upper East Tennessee
Johnson City, Tennessee

 

Psychoscience and Technology

I regard Robert H. Blank as the leading scholar on the policy implications of bioscience and technology. My observations then are intended as a codicil to, not a critique of, his essay, "Study of the Brain Reveals Complex Issues" (FORUM, Fall 1998). Blank concludes that "our commitment to the belief that all humans—though vastly different from one another genetically—are innately equal will face powerful challenges as we struggle to make the most prudent use of our growing knowledge of the brain." Implicit in his remarks is the idea that advances in the sciences of the brain and nervous system will disrupt long-established beliefs about human abilities and behaviors and modify, perhaps fundamentally, ethical and legal principles and practices.

In 1925, anthropologist George A. Dorsey authored a book entitled Why We Behave Like Human Beings. Evidently many people wanted to know the answer, for the book was reprinted 42 times in the next three years. Over the past 76 years, much more has been learned about this question. But conjectures derived from these findings have often led to controversy over the wisdom and even the morality of in-depth inquiry into the biology of human behavior. As the "decade of the brain" comes to a close, we appear to be approaching truly portentous advances in understanding why we behave like human beings. Definitive links may be uncovered that explain how mental and genetic factors are expressed in human cultures and behaviors.

The impetus driving brain and neural sciences has been alleviation and prevention of mental disorders and disabilities. The Human Genome Project has extended the scope of biobehavioral research into an unknown future. The potential conceptual fall-out from these scientific inquiries has been described as equivalent to the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions.

Many ethicists and some scientists believe that the scope of potentially dangerous knowledge should not be extended. Moreover, some believe we should not pursue research that might call us to question prevailing moral and political assumptions and values. In spite of these reservations, our urge to counteract the tragedies of mental illness and to cope effectively with antisocial behavior—which may be on the rise—seems certain to spur investigation into the causes of human behavior, regardless of some unintended consequences.

If advances in the sciences of the brain, genes, and behavior fundamentally change cultural perceptions of reality, then the analogy to the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions is valid. Virtual reality is a case in point. Dr. Blank develops at some length the technology and potential therapeutic use of virtual reality. There is however a broader dimension of virtual reality that already affects human perceptions of the world. We perceive the world through cultural lenses that change over time and differ widely among human cultures and even among people of different levels of education. In the modern era, the technologies of cinema, television, animation, and advertising have created for many people an alternative to the actual world. This world is made possible through the extension of visual technology into everyday experience. Has Disney World reality already distorted, perhaps subliminally, popular perceptions of the "real" world?

Aside from their potential therapeutic uses, valid findings in the bio-behavioral sciences might be used by unscrupulous powerholders to manipulate popular perceptions of reality. Furthermore, research on the human genome may cause a new societal paradigm to emerge. That new paradigm may, for example, force us to redefine our philosophic assumptions regarding human equality, or it may replace our legal assumptions regarding crime and punishment.

How these and other possibilities play out in the 21st century can only be conjectured. It may be that inestimable benefits made possible through brain and behavioral research will exact a price in sociophilosophic conflict. However, the ultimate benefits to individuals are likely to outweigh the conjectured costs to traditional assumptions regarding human behavior.

Lynton K. Caldwell
School of Public
and Environmental Affairs
and Department of Political Science
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

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