Lessons learned

Thoughts on the value of citizen oversight.

“You could talk about all kinds of lessons learned about spill prevention and response, but I’m going to stick with the big picture. That if you involve citizens with the appropriate amount of money and the people with the most to lose are out there making sure they don’t have to lose, that’s a pretty powerful model. I think it’s an applicable model throughout the country and throughout the world.”

– Joe Banta

“It took a while to learn the culture of the oil industry and how they work; it’s quite a system once you learn it. Even the Alyeska owners’ committee in Alaska are not decision-makers. They are passer-on-ers, and they pass on to their own higher-ups within Exxon, BP and Conoco. Once you learn that and you learn what the people within the frame of the industry want, you realize that nobody, and I mean nobody, wants an oil spill.”

– Stan Stephens

“Similar to the ombudsman institution, the RCAC has no power or authority to implement its recommendations and therefore its power is derived through the quality of its research and the effective presentation of facts and logical arguments. This is an important and positive aspect.”

– Sheila Gottehrer

“You can’t have it your way all the time. There’s a give and take when you’re participating in a complex system that has a whole variety of players, not just within the council itself, but within the system of oil spill preparedness and response. We like to strive to make it as good as we can. We also have to figure out how to make compromises and make sure we’re at least making some forward momentum. I think that’s always one of the challenges.”

– Jim Butler

“That moderate people can improve any situation. If you attend to the extremists, your ability to help an area really decreases. A balanced approach, understanding the interests of all parties and trying to create solutions that accommodate as many interests as possible, produces better results than saying this is the only solution we want.

Additionally, I think citizens’ advisory groups funded by potentially impacting parties are a concept of great value to the nation and the world. It truly needs to be replicated wherever there is any facility that can impact a region that depends upon government and regulations in order not to be hurt.”

– Chris Gates

“That you can get a lot further by working cooperatively than by being adversarial. Sometimes the right thing to do is to be adversarial, but most of the time the right path is working cooperatively together, understanding the other side’s point of view, and trying to accommodate that and trying to seek out a way that meets both your needs and the other parties’ needs.”

– Tim Robertson

“What we have learned and what is very important is that we can make a difference, and that we have made a difference. We work with the shippers and Alyeska and the Coast Guard and a whole bunch of other groups, and I think we’ve all learned to appreciate each other better and understand each other’s roles.”

– Stan Stephens

“We have learned that complacency is our worst enemy. We have learned that using the best consultants and the best information is the most compelling way to get industry to do what you want them to do. We have learned that being polite and professional with industry and the regulators is much more effective than being contentious. I remember meetings where people stood up and screamed profanities, called industrial representatives liars, said they were arrogant. That may have been true or at least true in the board’s opinion, but it didn’t advance their cause.”

– John Devens, Sr

“In a perfect world I would find people in government and industry more receptive to citizen oversight. Oversight is never fun if you’re the person who is being overseen because you’re always having to explain things. In a perfect world, people would say, this is really good to have. The RCAC was not meant to be another hurdle in the regulatory process, it was meant to be a player in the regulatory process, as a third party dispassionate citizen, and as a way for citizens to have some more expertise and a keeper of the flame.”

– Mead Treadwell

“The problem is the culture and the higher-ups and the bottom line, which oversees and overcomes everything. What I have learned is that you have got to find a way to make sure that everything you do, every move you make, has to be professionally done and it absolutely has to be right. You can’t go in with emotion. You have to go in and say this is what’s happening and this is what we need to do to make sure it’s better. We hire some of the best professionals to get that done.”

– Stan Stephens

“One of the things I would hope is that the RCAC continues to live up to a very high standard of organizational integrity and ethics. Three rules are to stay organized, stay active, and stay informed when you are responding to disasters and crises. I’ve never forgotten that from my experience with RCAC and the communities of Cordova and Prince William Sound. We did try to build into the council and into the law, that staying active and informed and working hard can make positive change happen.”

– Scott Sterling

“A lesson learned is that it’s better to have the stakeholders involved before a disaster happens so that you at least have a bit of a trust level established. Today there are regular drills. We know the people involved and the level of trust has grown. If something calamitous happens, we’ll know who to pick up the phone and call.”

– Marilyn Leland

“I would say another lesson is you should never have a time and a place where you have a potential disaster where the responders—both the state and federal governments and the industry people—don’t know the people in the communities. This is one where frequent exercises, the interface that the RCAC provides, the work of the fishing communities and so forth is vitally important.”

– Mead Treadwell

“That it is essential that those people most directly impacted by industry operations should be engaged in determining how those operations happen. There are so many places all over the world where things are imposed on people, they suffer consequences, and they have no power to speak to industry to make changes such that those consequences either are lessened or in some way mitigated. RCAC is a powerful organization in that it really is an example of how people need to be engaged in decision making regarding development that directly impacts them.”

– Anne Rothe

“We have managed to keep a consensus between state regulatory authorities and national regulatory authorities, industry and the various communities and Alaska at large. We need to keep the investments to maintain the escort vessels and double hull tankers and some other things that are expensive but are worth it. We have learned that if you don’t do science, you don’t change things. Perhaps the biggest lesson is to listen to people who believe that science can be improved, and to listen to the outliers sometimes.”

– Mead Treadwell

“We are oil dependent and we will never change and because of that we accept the inherit risks of providing that fuel to our society. We know we cannot clean up a spill. We know that we have to prevent a spill. We know that you have to have some oversight to a degree to prevent complacency and downsizing. And we’ve learned it’s possible for a place like Prince William Sound to offer stakeholder interest and expertise with industry interest and expertise and have a system that runs fairly smoothly.”

– Mark Hutton

“That it’s absolutely necessary to have citizens involved, providing oversight for large-scale industrial projects that have the potential for affecting the environment and peoples’ lives. We need to have these councils established before we have catastrophes rather than after, and not just for catastrophic situations but for everyday operational concerns as well. Citizens, industry, and government need to talk to each other in a structured way, on a regular basis. Government and industry need active, independent, and credible citizen engagement.”

– Rick Steiner

“Finally, a lesson learned is, you always have to be careful that even a watchdog group doesn’t become complacent and bureaucratic. You have to keep telling the story of why RCAC exists and why citizen oversight is an important asset to maintain checks and balances.”

– Mead Treadwell

About this page:

The quotes on this page are part of an oral history of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, released in April 2015. For more information about this document, please visit: Stories of the early years and formation of the council released

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