Here is a book I have not yet read: Quantifying Environmental Impact Assessment Using Fuzzy Logic by Richard B. Shepard. I write about this book below as the author is a frequent commenter on my blog and has posed the following interesting comment.

I've heard mining industry environmental staff, executives, and regulators complain about the time involved, the costs, and the uncertainties of outcomes of the environmental impact assessment process. The three most common reasons EIAs are appealed or challenged in court are 1) the decision was arbitrary and capricious, 2) not all alternatives were equally considered (a violation of CEQ guidelines), and 3) opinions expressed during scoping were ignored without reason.

Since these assessments are inherently subjective, these reasons are extremely difficult to defend. About four years ago I realized that I could do something about this by applying the relatively esoteric mathematics of fuzzy set theory to quantify subjectivity in EIAs. The mathematics is commonplace in control systems (driverless trains, aircraft autopilots, elevators, a ton of household appliances, autofocus cameras, etc.) and profitably used by a number of large businesses and manufacturers.

I've been talking with executives and environmental staff in the mining industry about application of the fuzzy logic approach for a long while. I get some interest, but not one person has called or sent an e-mail asking for more information or an explanation of how it might help him. Since this approach specifically addresses the problems they've said they want to see resolved, I don't understand the lack of interest. Perhaps it's fear of change. Perhaps it's not their money or job that's at risk. When I can sit down with people, face to face, and discuss their concerns and how we address them, the response is quite positive.

For three years I've been in periodic contact with the Northern Dynasty folks about the Pebble project. No particular interest on their part, despite the rising opposition they face there. Last week, I sent an e-mail to Cynthia Carroll of Anglo American which she passed on to the Sr VPs for their Base Metals Group and External Affairs. This morning, the latter sent back a reply that said "we don't want to accelerate our permitting, but want to let people participate and make the process transparent." Well, that's exactly what the brochure and my e-mail message stressed, so the response is puzzling, to write the least.

My primary experience with EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) is preparing the engineering sections of EIS for uranium mill tailing remediation. We did things the simplest way: get out and talk to the folk involved, set out the simplest alternatives, and describe them in the easiest possible prose. We succeeded every time.

I wrote two EIS’s using decisions theory to justify the conclusion. The regulators rejected them saying they could not understand the process.

My boss makes lots of consulting money selling his Multiple Accounts Analysis approach to comparing alternatives. It’s a pretty basic spreadsheet approach; but the users love it for they can easily understand it. You use the computer only to add things up. Not to generate random numbers of functions.

I suspect that people, in general, do not like to admit that processes are random or fuzzy, or uncontrolled. It’s a fact; but they don’t like it. So they won’t do it.

People like certainty. Witness the great religions: All very simple and sure in their dogma. No probability there.

Why would any mining company admit to uncertainty or probability of fuzziness in their logic. That would be akin to suicide in the market place of true believers for and against mining who seek religious certainly, not truth.

The Pebble Mine is a perfect example. Either you are for it or against it. Either you believe it is the way to bring the benefits of Anglo American’s Witwatersrand experience to Alaska, or you believe you want to keep the State in its current state. Why delve into the probability curve of extreme earthquakes bringing down the tailings dam. Why fret about the beta distribution curve of geomorphic change breaching acid generating material encapsulations? It is simple: either mine or do not mine; either fish or do not fist; either develop or remain wild. The only thing that is fuzzy is the relative power of the opposing players. And the skill with which they will make their moves.

The decision to advance the Pebble Mine is not economic, or financial, or even political. It is simply another clash of cultures, belief systems, secular religions if you like. The players no more need the truth, determinate or fuzzy, than the players in any other great clash of civilizations or religions. You may read the book on fuzzy logic if you can afford it, but you do not need it to set your compass in the clash of ideas that surround mines.