In the late 1980s, the country celebrated the 200th anniversary of our most important legal text: the U.S. Constitution.
To do so, a commission was established, headed by respected former Chief Justice Warren Burger. And to lead a celebration in Washington, D.C., an equally distinguished American was chosen: Wayne Newton.
Wayne Newton!!?? The original Las Vegas lounge lizard? What were they thinking?
Us young, hip kids (at least we thought then we were then) imagined the following conversation leading to this decision.
Person 1: Hmm. Who should we get to honor the Constitution on its 200th birthday. I KNOW! Let’s get WAYNE NEWTON!
Person 2: Gee, that’s a GREAT idea!
This led us to propose the Wayne Newton Theory of Bad Decisionmaking. This theory posits that Bad Decisions require at least two people: a proposer and an endorser. A corollary to this theory is that the endorser’s actions are just as bad if not worse than the proposer’s.
The Wayne Newton Theory and its corollary recently received new support from a decision involving land near the Grand Canyon. There, the imagined conversation went something like this:
Foreign uranium mining company: Hmm. Where should we drill dozens of wells looking for a site for a huge new uranium mine. I KNOW! Let’s do it next to Grand Canyon National Park! On Forest Service land!
U.S. Forest Service: Gee, that’s a GREAT idea! In fact, it’s such a great idea, we’ll approve it without the usual environmental review or a chance for real public involvement! And we’ll approve it five days before Christmas!
Approving uranium mining next to the Grand Canyon is certainly a Bad Decision, though I don’t suppose one can blame British-based VANE Minerals Group for trying. It’s part of their job to try to make money off radioactive elements. But the Forest Service proved in spades the Wayne Newton Theory corollary, that the endorser of a bad idea is worse than the proposer. What was the Forest Service thinking? (Answer: probably what the bigwigs in Washington told them to think.)
Luckily, before the mining company could drill too many wells, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity went to court to slow down this bad idea — and won. The decision should make the Forest Service actually perform some real environmental review before further on-the-ground harms occurs.
As Wayne Newton would sing, a big "Danke Schoen" to the three groups, their lawyer (my former colleague Neil Levine), and the U.S. District Court for stopping this Bad Idea for now.