The BLM has issued its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Burning Man. Unfortunately, the operational mitigations it outlines would fundamentally change the cultural fabric of Black Rock City. Read this post, which provides a high-level overview of the situation, highlighting that while Burning Man Project has been and will remain committed to its legacy of safety and strong environmental stewardship, many of these mitigations are unreasonable, untenable, arbitrary and capricious, attempt to solve problems that don’t exist, and/or create new (and worse) problems. We need your help.
We need everyone — particularly business owners, civic leaders, and subject matter experts — to provide substantive comments about these mitigations. By law, these comments must be taken into consideration by BLM in their drafting of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which will directly affect the future and survival of our event. Following are guidelines on how to submit high-quality, effective comments about the DEIS mitigations.
How to Submit a Comment
BLM has requested public comment and we encourage everyone to review the Draft EIS and submit informed, substantive comments through the BLM’s comment form OR email email@example.com. Be sure to copy/cc us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for public comment is April 29. You may submit multiple comments on different issues or include many issues in a single comment. More details are on the BLM website.
How to Submit an Effective Comment
The most effective comments provide useful information to the BLM. DEIS comments are not counted as votes, nor are they part of a referendum on BLM decisions. They’re used to improve the document and analyses, ensuring impacts are adequately determined before the BLM makes a final decision on the proposed project. So, avoid comments like “I am in favor of this project” or “I am opposed to this project.”
Remember: the more clear, concise, and relevant to the DEIS your comments are, the more effective they’ll be and the more likely it is that they’ll be utilized to improve the final documents and affect the agency’s decisions. The most effective comments should follow these guidelines:
- Be as specific as possible with your comments and refer to sections, chapters, special studies, page numbers and paragraphs in the DEIS.
- Back up your statements with explanations, facts, personal experience, and references, as appropriate.
- Support statements with details. If, for example, you are concerned about impacts to the playa surface or traffic management, it is helpful to focus on a particular problem or issue, such as BLM’s recommendation for K-rail and jersey barriers around the Black Rock City perimeter: “It appears the Draft EIS failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of the transportation and placement of millions of pounds of concrete and plastic barriers around the perimeter.” or
- Comments can take the form of questions like: “I have not experienced problems with firearms or drugs at Burning Man. Did BLM consider the costs of running an increased search operation at the Gate, and the effects on wait times and individual rights?”
- It’s important to look at the base assumptions that lead to BLM’s new requirements. For instance: “It appears BLM relied on very few observations in the Artificial Light at Night Assessment.”
- You should include your experience. For example: “I have been to Burning Man seven times and my camp does everything we can to ensure our loads are secure and that we leave no debris. It seems the recommendation for dumpsters is extreme and not supported by enough evidence.”
- You should state your qualifications, such as: “I am a biologist in Nevada studying bird migration and can tell you that the analysis in this respect is beyond reason. The extremely tiny level of risk to bird species posed by activity at Burning Man does not warrant BLM’s proposed monitoring or mitigations.”
- Submit comments if you find:
- an error in analysis that may affect the outcome
- new information that would change the analysis and conclusions
- something that should be clarified
- a substantially different alternative that meets the purpose and need statement and has not been considered.
Comments that simply reflect an opinion about the project will not be as effective. For example, a comment that states, “I don’t like the idea of concrete barriers around the event,” or “ I oppose putting dumpsters on Gate Road on principle” typically result simply in a response of “Comment Noted.” An effective comment might start with: “Concrete barriers would be detrimental to the Burning Man event because ___,” or “The event would be negatively affected by dumpsters on Gate Road because ___.”
Substantive comments that are backed by factual support sometimes lead to changes in the Final EIS and in the project. The comments should be written in a manner that requires the lead agency that designed the mitigation to actually respond.
To have a significant impact on the Draft EIS process, comments should point out errors, inconsistencies, omissions of data or analyses, or conclusions not based on evidence.
The agency needs to respond adequately to such substantive comments prior to certification of the final EIS. Failure to do so would provide the basis for a legal challenge to a certified (approved) EIS, and if the court agreed with the challenge, the EIS would be found invalid. in Black Rock City, outlining a series of operational mitigations that ostensibly ensure our event remains in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
We have some of the world’s most brilliant and creative minds in the Burning Man community — let’s go! Thank you for your time in supporting this effort.
This post contains our analysis of all of the mitigations proposed in Appendix E, as well as background context to help you understand the history behind each. This will serve as helpful background as you craft your comments, so keep an eye out for it.
For more detailed guidelines, see these resources:
- Constructing effective comments under NEPA
- Tips for Providing Effective Comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement
- How to Write an EIR Comment
[Editor’s Note: some of these guidelines are sourced directly from the BLM’s commenting tips.]
Top photo by Mark Hammon