Monthly Archives: January 2010

Cape Wind, The Rule of Law And The Choices We Make

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced that he will make a permitting decision regarding Cape Wind by April. He has requested public comment on the project before February 12. Comments can be sent here and here.

The long saga of Cape Wind’s permitting efforts has proven to be a classic example of how well intended environmental regulations can be abused and hypocritically turned against very environmentally responsible projects.

The story of Cape Wind should be taught in Law Schools as an example of how the rule of law guaranteed by our constitution and precedent in law at least back to the Magna Carta can been manipulated and abused by politically connected cynics.

Starting in 2001, Cape Wind was subject to an exhaustive four year permitting process coordinated by the US Army Core of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and involving seventeen state and federal permitting agencies. When the results proved conclusively that the project would have no significant negative impacts of any kind, powerful politicians from both parties got the regulations changed so that the water views from their friend’s mansions on the Cape Cod would not be impacted.

A new regulatory process required the NEPA process to start completely over under the purview of the US Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. After another four or five years of intense study by multiple agencies, again the project was proven conclusively to have only positive impacts on the environment, on the economy and on our future. The MMS staff and all the reviewing agencies recommended the project be approved.

Recently, project opponents working with members of local Native American tribes have tried to derail the project again claiming that the waters in which the Cape Wind is to be built were once dry land which may contain ancient burial sites and that their religion requires unobstructed views of these sacred waters. It is perhaps telling that these objections were never raised to block marinas, pleasure boats and all sorts of other modern offenses that might blight these sacred views.  And one might also wonder about the religious impact when oil spills have polluted those waters making fuel deliveries to the Cape’s only power plant.

Of course cultural and historic heritage issues are considered fully and very carefully as part of the NEPA review process and should have been raised much earlier. It’s not as if those making these claims were unaware of the permitting process which has now been done twice and which provided them every possible opportunity to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner. What new information is now being brought to bear and why wasn’t it provided earlier? If there is nothing new being presented, then why should the Department of Interior effectively reopen the permitting process to review these matters?

The delay that has already been granted in issuing the permits to build Cape Wind in order to consider these late concerns is the most flagrant kind of abuse of the rule of law that is fundamental to the preservation of our civilized society. If such claims are allowed to derail Cape Wind at this late date, then what is to stop any opponent of any project ever proposed anywhere from hiring a couple of Native Americans after the permitting process is completed to claim the project is on their sacred grounds or blocks their sacred views? What is to prevent anyone alleging any other religious beliefs to assert that anything that they don’t happen to personally like should be stopped in its tracks and claim government protection against whatever may happen to offend their purported religious heritage?

The Constitution grants us all freedom to practice religion as we wish, but not at the expense of the Constitutional rights of others, nor at the expense of the fundamental rule of law in our land.

If we allow the regulatory goal posts to continually shift after a project is proposed, based on arbitrary environmental, religious or any other kind of claims, then we will have all lost the protection of the rule of law that our nation and our prosperity is based on. The corruption inherent in abuses such as that now underway in this obstruction and that which Cape Wind has earlier been subjected to, undermine our freedom and every constitutional protection we are granted as Americans.

Regulators from all the state and federal agencies overseeing this project have done their job very well – twice. From their comprehensive reviews, it is very apparent that the only real issue ever seriously in question is the subjective aesthetic impact of the project.

But the aesthetic question is not a question of Cape Wind vs. a pristine world. The question is far larger than the aesthetic impact of a few wind towers barely visible over the horizon. Like the rest of America, the Cape and Islands need energy. Aesthetic blights from mining, refining, delivery and disposal of fuels for oil, gas, coal and nuclear power plants, and the larger impacts of those technologies on our society, should be given serious consideration in evaluating Cape Wind. The rights, aesthetic concerns and religious sensibilities of those impacted by the entire systems delivering energy to Cape Cod and the Islands must be give equal weight to the concerns of the Cape Wind opponents.

The craziest part of all this is that from the closest shores, Cape Wind will be barely visible just a couple degrees above the horizon, and only on a clear day.

As I have testified on behalf of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association in Army Corp of Engineer’s hearings on Cape Wind:

“The choice we face goes far beyond local aesthetics. Will we choose to continue our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from the Middle East? Will we choose a future plagued by international conflict, terrorism and climate change implicit in fossil fuel dependence? Will we choose to forgo a golden opportunity to provide clean energy and good jobs for the region? The real question is whether we will choose a compromised future or the tremendous potential of sustainable prosperity.”

Perhaps those opposing Cape Wind are not willing to make the choices necessary for our nation to remain a free and prosperous. But as a nation, we have real choices to make.

We can choose to get serious about creating clean renewable energy solutions at home and exporting those solutions of peace, hope, and prosperity abroad, or we can continue to waste our treasure and send our troops off to die fighting for oil in places like Iraq. Many Cape Wind opponents say they support renewable energy. But empty words do not solve the problems our addiction to oil has caused. Words alone do not help the families of the brave Americans sent to make the ultimate sacrifice in the Persian Gulf.

Today, wind power is cost competitive with conventional power plants. The wind industry has grown about forty percent each year for over a decade. Wind projects do not cause air pollution or oil spills, and they do not depend on an everlasting stream of imported oil and gas. Cape Wind is as good as any significant solution to our energy needs can possibly be.

A lack of seriousness about developing real solutions like Cape Wind will doom our children to a future enormously complicated by international conflict, climate change, terrorism, diminishing economic prospects and compromised freedom. Our lack of wisdom and vision will cause more brave Americans to die in future wars that could be prevented.

For too long, we have compromised our proud heritage with bad decisions. Our leaders need to face realities that ordinary people see clearly.  We cannot allow our regulatory process to be hijacked and violate the rule of law at the arbitrary whim of a few.

The NEPA process has been followed fully for Cape Wind – twice. The conclusions are absolutely clear.  It is long past time for public officials to act responsibly, put a stop to the cynical games and allow the project to get built.

Building Cape Wind will be a symbol of our commitment to the rule of law and our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future.

Please make sure Secretary Salazar hears from you.

3 Comments

Filed under Climate Policy, Environmentalism, Fundamental Perspectives

The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change

Kate Shepard offers some sensible advice: “The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don’t Talk About Climate Change”

1 Comment

Filed under Climate Policy, Energy Policy, Environmentalism

Joel Kotkin’s Hopeful Prognosis

In “The Kids Will Be Alright”, Joel Kotkin offers a hopeful prognosis for the America’s competetive position in the future based on population projections, ethnic diversity and our historically optimistic and entrepreneurial  cultural traditions.

He suggests that

The very diversity of the emerging America makes many wonder what ultimately will hold the country together. Ultimately, this unique society will find its binding principle in the notions that have long differentiated it from the rest of world: a common belief system, a sense of a shared destiny and an aspirational culture.

Kotkin ends his economic and democraphic musing optimistically:

Of course, this optimistic scenario depends on intelligent and energetic actions by central and local governments, as well as community organizations. But the road to the American future will be primarily laid not by the central state but by families, individuals and communities. During the industrial age Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “The age has an engine, but no engineer.” Much the same may be said in the coming decades.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economic Policy, Fundamental Perspectives

Is Washington Starting To Wake Up?

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts has finally made Washington at least pretend to focus on what actually matters to the rest of us. Beyond altering the political calculus on the bloated illogical health care bill or the Cap and Trade corporate welfare masquerading as environmental policy, that election has apparently caused Washington to wake up and listen a bit. The Obama administration has signaled a new readiness to perhaps stop enabling what former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson has described as “The Quiet Coup” on Wall Street and has introduced some baby steps toward reigning in the extreme abuses in the financial system.

The media on all sides of the political spectrum is abuzz with rumors that Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers may finally get dumped and replaced by people that aren’t such obviously puppets of the big banks.  There are even signs that Ben Bernanke’s confirmation will get stalled in the Senate, offering at least some remote hope that a more responsible Fed Chairman might be appointed. See “A Note From The Inside”, “Will Obama’s Bank Plan End Moral Hazard?”“A Cold Senate Reception For Ben Bernanke”“Is It Just Us, Or Did Tim Geithner Just Get Fired Yesterday?”Will Next Week See A Sunday Night Massacre For Obama’s Economic Team?”“Tim Geithner Is A Sore Loser”“Obama’s Half baked Bank Reform”.

People are angry. Our financial system is supposed to promote solid business development, job creation and economic productivity, not just reward the unbridled speculative greed of bankers and traders. The days have long passed when almost anyone on Main Street believes that the stock markets, the derivative markets or any of the markets for exotic financial instruments actually add value to the economy. Instead it clear that Wall Street has become a parasite on the productive economy. The majority of Americans are sick of having our treasury and the federal reserve raided to backstop outrageous and unproductive speculations that benefit only the titans of finance while impoverishing the rest of us and burdening our nation and our kids with unsustainable levels of debt. There is a brewing demand that banks be forced to again become staid conservative  institutions that avoid risk, pay real returns on savings, make and hold solid and prudent loans on economically rational investments and pay their shareholders and employees based on a modest, boring and responsible spread between the interest on those deposits and the interest on the loans.

Washington is still way behind the mood of the country and a long way from catching up with the popular outrage fueled by the obscene record bonuses being paid this year by Wall Street’s “too big to fail” banks that wouldn’t even exist today without recent taxpayer bailouts, especially if banking and securities regulations had actually been enforced. That outrage has cost the Republicans the presidency and both houses of Congress. It has already cost the Democrats the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the most safely democratic seat in the senate. Hopefully it will soon cost Geithner, Summers and Bernanke their jobs and open up both the Treasury Department and the Fed to public scrutiny and real audits. If new Republicans like Scott Brown don’t understand that anger and respond by actually breaking up the big banks and letting those that very much deserve to fail do so, then they too will soon be replaced. The popular outrage over the Ponzi schemes that both our government and our financial system have been turned into will not ebb  until our government is staffed by people who get it.

Most Americans are not looking for the government to be our nanny, our employer or our master. We don’t want to ruin our kids future with an unbearable mountain of debt wasted on senseless spending programs, irrational handouts and bailouts for cynical campaign supporters. We do not believe or expect that the government can protect us from every lunatic with a bomb in his underwear.  Nor do we believe that it can magically turn every ancient ethnic rivalry in the world into a peaceful multicultural democracy through wasting trillions of dollars and precious American lives on senseless and hopeless deployments of our military. We need Washington to shrink, stop borrowing, do far less, spend way less, and start focusing on making sensible laws and regulations and enforcing them fairly so we can have a free, fair, competitive and rational economy.

While the recent noise out of Washington is a sign that our government may not be totally corrupted and clueless, the first actual sign of minimal progress will be passing the bipartisan bill to Audit the Fed. The first sign of real change will be breaking up the big banks. The political  party most likely to regain some minimal level of trust in Washington is the one that makes sure that Wall Street becomes a very boring place to work and that the best talent in America is once again attracted to the real economy – designing, building, growing and manufacturing assets of actual value.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economic Policy, Fundamental Perspectives, Politics

Our “Public Servants” Rule With Impunity

In  “Class War, How Public Servants became Our Master’s”,  Steven Greenhut describes the fundamental cause of the fiscal crises facing state and local governments. At the same time he highlights key issues that will inevitably become the focus of  contentious electoral and legislative showdowns as citizens revolt against unsustainable levels of taxation driven by absurdly generous public employee benefits.

Unlike the claims of the political left that fundamental divisions in our country are between the rich and the rest of us, the real class division that matters in political terms is between the public sector and the private sector of the workforce. Greenhut highlights numerous examples of gross abuse of the public pension system and other  perks, along with some fundamental statistics that highlight the divided country we are becoming.

According to a 2007 analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Asbury Park Press, “the average federal worker made $59,864 in 2005, compared with the average salary of $40,505 in the private sector.”

And that’s before calculating the lifetime value of lavish pensions and other  perks of  “public service”.  Greenhut continues:

But the real action isn’t in what government employees are being paid today; it’s in what they’re being promised for tomorrow. Public pensions have swollen to unrecognizable proportions during the last decade. In June 2005, BusinessWeek reported that “more than 14 million public servants and 6 million retirees are owed $2.37 trillion by more than 2,000 different states, cities and agencies,” numbers that have risen since then.

All these statistics are truly depressing for taxpayers. But far worse are some more fundamental statistics that he cites about the structure of our economy:

Michael Hodges’ invaluable Grandfather Economic Report uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics to chart the growth in state and local government employees since 1946. Their number has increased from 3.3 million then to 19.8 million today—a 492 percent increase as the country’s population increased by 115 percent. Since 1999 the number of state and local government employees has increased by 13 percent, compared to a 9 percent increase in the population.

The United States had 2.3 state and local government employees per 100 citizens in 1946 and has 6.5 state and local government employees per 100 citizens now. In 1947, Hodges writes, 78 percent of the national income went to the private sector, 16 percent to the federal sector, and 6 percent to the state and local government sector. Now 54 percent of the economy is private, 28 percent goes to the feds, and 18 percent goes to state and local governments. The trend lines are ominous.

Bigger government means more government employees. Those employees then become a permanent lobby for continual government growth. The nation may have reached critical mass; the number of government employees at every level may have gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy, rein in the costs, and restore lost freedoms.

Adding to those numbers the huge number of people dependent on social security, welfare, government pensions or other direct government financial support of one type or another, along with all the folks in the non-profit sector and those working on government contracts, it becomes clear that the United States has ceased to have a functioning market economy.  And the implications for the future are not promising in a democracy comprised of an electorate of government dependents.

Such depressing fundamental statistics on the structure of our economy indicate that the recent financial crisis is likely just the beginning of a long and politically contentious economic decline unless some fundamental steps are taken to reverse these trends.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Economic Policy, Politics