March 4, 2009

If you let big wind through the door, you can't stop anything else

Obama overrides Bush rule on Endangered Species Act, by Jim Tankersley. Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2009:
President Obama on Tuesday overrode the Bush administration on a key step in applying the Endangered Species Act, restoring a requirement that federal agencies consult with experts before launching construction projects that could affect the well-being of threatened species.

Environmentalists said reinstating the requirement blocks the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and others from “nibbling away” at crucial wildlife habitat. Business and industry groups, on the other hand, warned that Obama’s action could hamper road-building and other projects that would help jump-start the economy.

Bush’s rule change, finalized in December, allowed federal agencies to determine on their own if projects would jeopardize endangered species, instead of consulting with expert biologists, as had been required for the last three decades. ... Obama made such consultation mandatory. ...

Industry lobbyists said Obama’s decision to mandate the consultations would add “red tape” to infrastructure projects funded by the economic stimulus bill. “This directive throws the brakes on projects,” said William L. Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs.

Even clean energy plans, such as wind farms, could be slowed down, said Michael D. Olsen, a former Bush Interior official who now lobbies for energy interests at Bracewell and Giuliani. “It’s not just projects that folks would term non-green,” he said. “It’s the green projects too.”
A few things should be noted. First, "red tape" in this case is what the civilized call "laws". Second, if a project threatens endangered species, it is not "green".

Third, it is not surprising that groups like the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) praise this return to the rule of law. At the same time, however, they join industry lobbyists such as Bracewell & Giuliani in promoting industrial wind energy development in rural and wild places. NRDC and EDF completely ignore adverse impacts in their praise for big wind. EDF even does PR work for individual companies. Only the Sierra Club recognizes that "wind projects tend to be large industrial developments with inevitable adverse impacts". Many of its local chapters actively oppose giant wind projects. Yet they also unquestionably accept the industry pitch that "Wind power is a reliable, clean, renewable resource that can help reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and nuclear power for electricity". The wind is anything but reliable (for providing real-time power in response to the needs of the electric grid), you can hardly call 400+-ft-high generators clean -- along with their associated clearing, foundations, roads, substations, and transmission lines -- and, due to wind's high variability, intermittency, and unpredictability, it has not been shown to reduce the use of other sources.

Regarding industrial wind energy, environmental groups need to reassess what side they're on. As they welcome Obama's restoration of protection for endangered species, they should restore their own perspective: They should stop acting as agents for an industry whose green credentials have turned out to be a sham and return to fighting to protect the natural world. Industry has its defenders. Nature needs its defenders to get back on track.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights