June 9, 2004

Anti-environmentalist promotes wind

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HumaneLines newsletter #300, June 8, 2004):
"The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on a dangerous proposal that would completely bypass all public input on energy projects affecting marine mammals, sea turtles, and migratory birds. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) is planning to amend the federal Energy Bill to gut one of the strongest and most important public interest laws on the books -- the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [of 1969]. NEPA mitigates the threats to wildlife and the environment by requiring careful review of major federal projects that will harm the environment.

"But the Pombo amendment seeks to limit this review for projects involving alternative energy development.
Pombo is not coy about being against environmental protections that raise the direct costs of exploiting our energy resources. He is shrewd enough to see that the environmentalist promoters of renewable energy sources, particularly wind, find themselves opposed to thorough environmental impact studies for their projects. For example, the developers of the project in East Haven, Vermont, complain about the state Agency of Natural Resources requiring a year-long study of birds at the site. They argue that whatever the localized impact on birds, the project itself -- by mitigating greenhouse and acid rain gases -- will allow more birds to live.

Vermont utilities don't buy any coal-generated electricity, around 1% from oil, and around 3% from natural gas. Electricity accounts for about 1% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. The East Haven 6-MW "demonstration" project will likely produce less than 0.2% of Vermont's electricity, so it would theoretically mitigate about 0.002% of the state's CO2 output. If all the current proposals in the state were to go forward, we would have power plants on several prominent ridges, more power lines and roads, erosion, and pollution, and birds and bats killed by the hundreds and thousands every year -- and the mitigation effect might reach 0.05%. It's no wonder that these "environmentally friendly" projects don't want serious environmental reviews.

As promoters of renewable energy, they are by definition environmentalist and good, and environmental laws are for bad guys. Pombo's seat is being challenged by a wind developer. His amendment cleverly undercuts the wind industry's sense of righteousness, forcing them to make a clear choice between their beloved profits and their claims of environmentalism.