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On the Bookshelf, U.S. Politics

Green Regulation Conundrums

Welcome to a magical world in which the scientific challenges to green energy have been resolved and renewable energy makes economic sense for the United States. Even in such a highly theoretical country, it is unlikely that green energy projects would make much headway due to a ‘green versus green’ regulatory structure where local environmentalist groups battle alternative energy projects, contend two authors in a recent Heritage Foundation presentation of their new book. “Most of the research for this was funded actually by the Department of Energy in a 2010 grant to look at [alternative] energy,” says Ryan M. Yonk, an assistant professor at Southern Utah University, co-author of Green vs. Green: The Political, Legal, and Administrative Pitfalls Facing Green Energy Production. Randy T. Simmons, another co-author, said that he doubted the Department of Energy would listen to their findings.

“And basically we end up with–our answer is–green regulations that are supposed to be protecting the environment are precisely the things that stand in the way of ever producing utility-scale green energy,” said Utah State University Professor Simmons.

When it comes to human-induced climate change–another supposition, according to the authors–the benefit to local groups is very small when they face the loss of wilderness or even desert. With regards to one solar energy site, Professor Simmons said that “…what you’ve done is you’ve taken, you’ve just said, ‘We’re going to take these thousands of acres and turn them into a national sacrifice area,’ and so it’s easily understandable why local groups would find that just really awful.” The incentive is to always fight against renewable energy construction such as solar and wind, they said.  At Ivanpah, they said, local groups forced the solar production company to create a fence to make sure that Mojave Desert tortoises were not harmed. Birds and bats are endangered by wind energy.

But notice that the incentives here are ‘I’m going to lose something I really value’ [...] is it worth it because maybe we’re going to get some green energy out of this and we will reduce global warming!” said Professor Simmons. “But notice that their fraction of the benefit of reducing human-induced climate change is going to be really tiny. […] So, I’m going to give up something I care a lot about in order to get something that’s just really tiny–and so the incentive is, ‘fight.’” They noted that local groups assign an “infinite value” to what they are losing, whereas the national groups, such as the Sierra Club, fight for changes which supposedly halt global warming.

This produces an ironic situation where local and national environmental groups demonstrate divergent interests. “In fact, last year the Chamber of Commerce put out a ‘Project No Project’ website where they identified that 351 projects, energy projects, that were held up in legal and regulatory–not in my back yard–red tape, and almost half of those, 140, were renewable projects,” noted the introducer, Nicolas Loris,  a Heritage Fellow. The Chamber’s website blames NIMBYism, or not in my back yard syndrome, for the lack of progress. According to the website:

“The study has produced several significant and insightful findings: For example, the authors find that successful construction of the 351 projects identified in the Project No Project inventory could produce a $1.1 trillion short-term boost to the economy and create 1.9 million jobs annually. Moreover, these facilities, once constructed, continue to generate jobs once built, because they operate for years or even decades. Based on their analysis, Pociask and Fuhr estimate that, in aggregate, each year the operation of these projects could generate $145 billion in economic benefits and involve 791,000 jobs” (emphases in original).

Simmons and Yonk have a different word for it: they call it BANANAs. “What we find is it’s not just NIMBY, because NIMBY’s what everybody assumes it is–that it’s not in my back yard, put it somewhere else,” says Professor Yonk. “In fact, it’s what the local groups are saying is put it somewhere else. It turns out what is really going on is BANANA–that we can build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.”

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