May 24, 2007

ENVIRONMENTAL HYPOCRISY UPDATE: Okay, we’ve heard a lot about the greenhouse effect, etc., but I’m reading Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb’s Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound and I’m beginning to doubt the political class’s serious commitment to this cause. The book’s a treasure trove, but here’s a description of how what was supposed to be a wide-open democratic town meeting on the Nantucket Sound wind power project was taken over by the astroturf brigades of the project’s well-heeled opponents:

The evening’s piece de resistance: the presence of the Honorable William Delahunt , the white-haired U.S. congressman whose district included the Cape, Marthas’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, as well as towns and cities closer to Boston. . . . Delahunt hated the wind farm. Or, at least, he said he hated it. Delahunt was widely seen as SenatorEdward M. Kennedy’s man. What Ted Kennedy hated, Bill Delahunt hated. And Ted Kennedy loathed Cape Wind, with an unwavering ardor that curiously belied the environmental ideals he so often proclaimed from the floor of the U.S. Senate . . . .

Delahunt’s control of the podium was unusual. Every other speaker had to use a floor microphone and was limited to three minutes. To maintain discipline, a very large traffic light turned first a warning yellow and then a time’s-up red. Delahunt, however, assumed he was exempted from the burden laid upon the rest of the hearing’s participants. Blindsided by the Congressman’s performance, project supporters — and there were plenty on Martha’s Vineyard, despite the Alliance’s efforts — were miffed. How had this politico gained control of what they thought was to be a “public” — as in, for the public — hearing, and opportunity for thoughtful and informed people to add their insights to the discussion.

(In fact, [Delahunt’s staffer Mark] Forest had forced Army Corps officials to bow to Delahunt’s coup d’etat. Had the Corps refused, the congressman could have taken out his revenge when appropriation votes came up on Capitol Hill.)

And it gets worse from there. I’m finding the book quite interesting so far. And lest this passage give the impression that there were only Democrats acting hypocritically here, I should note that the alliance against the wind power project was bipartisan, with “Bush Pioneers” working happily alongside the Kennedys to block the project lest their oceanfront views be sullied by the sight of windmills five miles away. Here’s more:

Reporters had fun for a while that evening, but on reflection, some were saddened. The hearing was supposed to be an opportunity for public discourse and an expression of democracy at the local level. Instead, it had been hijacked and turned into a publicity stunt. While wrapping themselves in the mantle of democracy, the Nantucket Sound affluent were behaving as if they owned the government. . . .

When a democratic process could be sold like this to the highest bidder, and when a U.S. congressman was present to do the honors, what did this mean for the future of America? A few of those present that evening found the symbolism of the event frightening, given the dangerous realities of the new millennium. Energy prices were steadily rising. Regular people were having trouble paying their bills. Climate change seemed to be under way. Oil and gas were in short supply and developing nations were eager to have all that electricity could provide, from lightbulbs to computers.

Somehow, somehwere, sometime soon, these challenges were going to have to be addressed — by someone willing to take the lead. . . . “Nero’s fiddle,” muttered a journalist watching the show.

As I say, it’s interesting reading, and it certainly speaks poorly for the seriousness of the political class on these matters.

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