Southeastern Section–55th Annual Meeting (23–24 March 2006)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


MCCURDY, Karen M., Department of Political Science, Georgia Southern Univ, P.O. Box 8101, 2287 Carroll Building, Statesboro, GA 30460,

Geological analysis and geologists have had variable influence in non-renewable resource policy in the United States since the 19th century. The latter half of the twentieth century produced a recognizable decline in the importance that public policy makers placed on geological evidence. The decision process for selection of a high level nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada is one recent example where the work of geologists and other scientists was rendered irrelevant in the policy debate. While the behavior of policy makers is puzzling and irrational from the standpoint of science, it is an example of rational political behavior from the perspective of rational choice theory. Understanding why geologic influence is variable in the policy process is important to understanding the boundary conditions of policy evolution. The policy process is dynamic, rather than the static state that the news media or political campaign rhetoric presents. A static state may be critical in the short time frame of six months to a year in an election, where the dichotomous outcome is measured as winner or loser, liberal or conservation, democrat or republican. The generational time scale of the policy process is dynamic, even to the point of being evolutionary. Demographic changes within the U.S. Congress, the field of Geology, and the national economy determine the boundary conditions of geologic influence in non-renewable resource policy. A rise or decline of importance of an economic sector like mining or petroleum exploration has important consequences for Geology. Likewise, “inside the Beltway” institutional changes have a profound influence on the role that geologic data play in the public policy decision process. A political ternary system can show the relative strengths of each component, which may then be helpful in understanding public policy outcomes.