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'Twas The Night Before Christmas' Environmental Impact Statement

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Ray Ring | Dec 18, 2012 06:00 AM

Executive Summary: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposes to allow an action described in the poem Twas The Night Before Christmas. Excerpting some quotes from the poem, the action would be "a miniature sleigh ... full of toys" hooked to "eight tiny reindeer" capable of flight, being driven through the sky over the U.S. border on the night of December 24 by a non-citizen known as "jolly ... St. Nick."

Jurisdiction: The Department has authority over this incursion of U.S. air space and territory, and therefore is the lead agency evaluating the resulting impacts on the environment, under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), in a process described by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "All federal agencies are to prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment. These statements are commonly referred to as environmental impact statements (EISes)."

Background: The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and 14 other environmental groups filed appeals and lawsuits requesting that the EIS be broad in scope, evaluating the cumulative impacts of St. Nick visiting all the houses in the nation, and all the associated impacts of celebrating Christmas which are not spelled out in the poem but are implicit, such as herbicides applied to all Christmas tree farms, emissions from generating electricity for all Christmas lights, and the disposal of all used gift-wrapping paper in landfills. Those legal actions were unified in a lawsuit that proceeded from lower courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in favor of the Department's intent to keep the EIS focused only on the impacts of St. Nick visiting a single house as described in Twas The Night Before Christmas. A separate legal action filed by atheists challenging the Department's proposal as an unconstitutional violation of separation of church and state also went to the Supreme Court, and again that court ruled 5-4 that the Department can proceed because Christmas has evolved to be a non-religious celebration for many people.

The need for the proposed action: Children need Christmas presents as a reward for being nice rather than naughty the whole year, families and societies need myths, and the Christmas industry -- retail businesses and churches -- needs customers.

Consulting agencies: In the preparation of this EIS, the Department consulted with the Environmental Protection Agency for evaluation of the impacts of the action described in the poem, including (1) emissions from flying reindeer, which are bound to affect air quality and water quality, (2) pesticide use implied by the poem's opening stanza: "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house ... Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse," (3) emissions from St. Nick's pipe described as "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth ... and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath," (4) dust pollution described as "His clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot" from descending the house's chimney, and (5) potentially extensive noise pollution described as "When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter ... St. Nick ... whistled, and shouted, and called them by name! ... 'Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! ... On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen! ... To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! ... Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!' ... I heard on the roof ... The prancing and pawing of each little hoof ... He had a broad face and a little round belly ... that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly! ... He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle ... But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight ... 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!'"


The Department also consulted with (1) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about (1a) potential Endangered Species Act listing for flying reindeer and elves including St. Nick, and (1b) potential impacts on various fur-bearing endangered species from providing the materials described in the poem as "He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot," (2) the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that (2a) the house's roof can support St. Nick and a loaded sleigh and the reindeer and (2b) the chimney is big enough, strong enough and cleaned-out enough to allow St. Nick to slide down through it, (3) the Department of Agriculture to evaluate the potential of spreading of weeds described as "And away they all flew like the down of a thistle," and (4) the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate potential interference with commercial and private air traffic.

Alternatives: The Department of Homeland Security studied a range of alternatives for carrying out the proposed action described in the poem, beginning with the No Action Alternative, which was rejected because it would mean no Christmas presents for the kids in the house, no jolly St. Nick myth for the family and society, and churches unable to fill their pews even one day a year. Alternative 2 is the action exactly described in the poem. Alternative 3 is the Christmas industry alternative, similar to Alternative 2 except St. Nick would deliver even more products. Alternative 4 has more protection of the environment, such as diapers on the flying reindeer and tranquilizers (instead of pesticides) to keep the mice from stirring. Alternative 5 is the maximum protection of the environment, beginning with a solar-powered sleigh instead of flying reindeer, but that alternative was rejected because existing solar-power technology does not allow for travel at night.

Public Comments: Testimony in public hearings and written comments overwhelmingly support Alternative 2, while certain grinches support the No Action Alternative.

Related agency decision: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that climate change is threatening to destroy the Arctic habitat for flying reindeer and Christmas elves including St. Nick, so they should be protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that the Department adopt Alternative 2 because it allows for the traditional December 24 migration behavior of the flying reindeer and elves including St. Nick as described in Twas The Night Before Christmas.

Preferred Alternative: The Department of Homeland Security finds that Alternative 2 has No Significant Impact on the environment, as long as St. Nick's fur clothing does not come from endangered polar bears. The Department selects it as the preferred alternative, allowing the action exactly described in the poem, which was written by Clement Moore in 1822 and published in 1823, according to random self-proclaimed experts we found on the Internet, so this EIS evaluation is long overdue. For those who want more details than this Executive Summary provides, the full 1,479-page EIS and 538 pages of appendices can be downloaded from the Department's website.

This Record of Decision will be entered into the Federal Register along with the most commonly accepted version of the full poem (the original version might be found on the Internet):

Twas The Night Before Christmas


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.


The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.


When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.


The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.


With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!


"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"


As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.


He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.


His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.


The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!


He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.


He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!


He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

 

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