April 7, 2005

Which side are you on?

M. David Stirling, in the Washington Times today, criticizes opponents of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In contrast, he praises Dear Leader's "common-sense approach and balancing of environmental concerns with real human needs." He dismisses environmental concerns, describing how environmentally friendly oil drilling has become, and reminds us that we need the energy and it will create jobs and local revenue.

Critics of course also point out that it will do little to affect our energy picture. The U.S. currently consumes about 20 million barrels of oil every day, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey any ANWR production would peak at about 1 million barrels/day in 2025, or 5% of today's consumption. It will obviously not replace any current or future sources, and more importantly it is not enough to risk cutting back contracts for imports. We will still be buying as much foreign oil as before. (In fact, about 7% of the oil used by the U.S. is currently exported.) It is definitely not worth violating a nominally protected wilderness area.

These arguments and reaction are not surprising, however. I write because Stirling sounds just like those who support industrial wind power: "We need to construct this expensive tiny source of power on previously undeveloped sites, even in protected wilderness areas, because -- well, anyway it creates jobs and local revenue." Stirling should be comforted that even environmentalists are pro-industrial capitalists now.

Related to this mix-up is recent news about Richard Pombo, U.S. Representative from California and promoter of industrial wind power. The Los Angeles Times found out that his parents own a good part of the land on which the Altamont wind power fiasco is situated. Pombo has earlier proposed (as noted here) that federal environmental review not be required for "alternative" energy projects. The L.A. Times now reports that he also requested the Department of the Interior directly to suspend Fish & Wildlife guidelines for the Altamont sites. His parents received $125,000 in 2001 for the use of their land by wind energy companies.

Altamont is an embarrassing showcase for the industry because large numbers of raptors have been killed there. A lawsuit is going forward on behalf of the birds. A current compromise (noted here) proposal is to shut the wind turbines down for the portion of the year when a majority of the deaths occur. That might cut Pombo's parents' wind income by a third. Pombo denies any interest in his parent's affairs and even denies knowledge of his signed letter to Interior secretary Gale Norton.

The anti-environment Pombo echos another argument from advocates for industrial wind: "We don't need environmental regulations -- by definition we're environmentally friendly."

It's all business. The industrial wind crowd is no better than the arctic drilling crowd.

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