Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Investigate, But Not Yet

The Thursday, December 23, 2004, Coeur d'Alene Press is reporting here that the Friends of the Aquifer and the Sierra Club are asking for an independent investigation of the wastewater leak at the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe's (BNSF) fuel depot in Hauser. The depot opened on September 1, and the drainage pipe leak was discovered on December 10.

Rachael Paschal Osborn is an attorney representing both the Friends of the Aquifer and the Sierra club in calling for the independent investigation. Her clients do not fully accept the BNSF will conduct an impartial investigation and completely report its results. Osborn was quoted in the Press saying, "We really can't trust that BNSF is doing the right thing. They've polluted aquifers all over the West, and this is typical behavior by them."

Kootenai County Commissioner Gus Johnson believes the county should wait until BNSF and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have completed their investigation. The county will review that investigation's results and then decide how to proceed. Johnson was quoted in the Press saying, "I don't buy into BNSF and DEQ skewing information. I have better thoughts of people than that."

I am astonished to find myself agreeing at least in part with Gus Johnson. It appears that BNSF has acted to prevent further leakage from the wastewater pipe, so presumbly the immediate threat has been stopped. I'm not so naive, however, to think that BNSF could not and would not skew the report results to put forth the best corporate image possible. We've seen enough corporate malfeasance in the past two or three years to not buy into Johnson's "better thoughts of people" comment.

Tactically the environmental groups would be wise to let BNSF and DEQ complete their investigation and submit a final report. Then insist that the report, its methodology, and all the evidence be reviewed by a neutral body of scientists who can evaluate the report's scientific and social validity. If the BNSF/DEQ report stands the tests of scientific peer review, factual completeness, and accuracy, then another equally valid but independent investigation would serve only to muddy the waters and delay remediation. On the other hand, if the BNSF/DEQ report fails an objective review, the environmental groups' case for a fast-track independent investigation is strengthened.

Both the BNSF and the DEQ have reputations to protect. It is unfair and unwise to prematurely assert their report will be biased. They are duty-bound to fulfill their social and political obligations to the public. They need to first be given a chance to do their duty. If they fall short, then we should hold them accountable. And we will.


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