Green Energy and Land Use: The Flip Side

29 08 2011

In my post about the resistance of locals to wind farms, I noted that the power locals can exert over these kinds of major planning initiatives is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can give ill-informed or myopic ad-hoc groups significant power to derail what is a national economic objective.

On the other hand, consider the Longview. The Longview export facility, that is.

In that instance, it was local environmentalists, with help from larger regional and national organizations, fighting a export facility that was to handle millions of tons of coal a year. Their contention was that moving that much coal through the area and storing it at the facility in Longview would have deleterious public health effects, and also contribute generally to the (particularly Chinese) appetite for coal, contributing to global warming. The developer for their part insisted that the coal was cleaner coal from the Midwest and that intensive measures were being taken to ensure that transport and storage weren’t a problem–and that it was self-defeating to just sit back while Chinese factories burned dirtier coal from elsewhere.

These groups organized locally to pressure County and State officials, and (temporarily) won. They used local and state land use regulatory systems to engage with the developer.

It seems to me that most people reading this would look more favorably on what happened in the latter case than what landowners do to keep wind farms from being developed–but they are perfectly identical, at least as to process and democratic participation. Given the significant degree of discretion in such permitting situations–there are rarely hard thresholds that would automatically preclude a “bad” project versus a “good” one–I’m not certain what a structural fix to the this problem for green energy would be. Taking permitting power away from localities would impermissibly disenfranchise local communities.



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