Are environmentalists an obstacle to clean energy production?

John Rossomando Contributor
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The Obama administration has set a target of having 80 percent of America’s electricity come from “clean energy sources” by 2035, but ironically one of the biggest obstacles to this goal could come from within the environmental movement itself.

From coast to coast, efforts to build everything from wind farms to solar plants has run afoul of local environmental groups and the “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) phenomenon. Pro-environmental journals, such as the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, as well as business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have each cataloged this trend.

“Often, many of the same groups urging us to think globally about renewable energy are acting locally to stop the very same renewable energy projects that could create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Bill Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote in the introduction of the group’s recent “Project, No Project” report. “NIMBY activism has blocked more renewable projects than coal-fired power plants by organizing local opposition, changing zoning laws, opposing permits, filing lawsuits, and using other long delay mechanisms, effectively bleeding projects dry of their financing.”

Recent examples include environmentalist lawsuits seeking to block construction of a solar power plant in California’s Mojave Desert due to threats to the endangered desert tortoise and environmentalists suing to block the construction of a 75-wind turbine project in Nevada due to threats to local wildlife.

Rob Mrowka, an ecologist for Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, told The Ely Times of Ely, Nev., that a green energy project’s location sometimes outweighs considerations such as climate change.

“We’ve got environmentalists out there who are fighting with environmentalists over whether or not they want renewable wind power or they want to save the chicken,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe told The Daily Caller regarding Oklahoma environmentalists and their effort to block construction of wind farms because of how it could negatively affect prairie chickens.

Inhofe then charged that the environmentalists want to stop all energy production regardless of its source.

“They don’t want us to exploit any of our resources, so then we have to go to the Middle East, and that causes the price of oil to go up, supply and demand,” Inhofe said.

The senator believes an apparent hostility to energy production lies behind the effort to push cap and trade through using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations targeting carbon emissions by farmers, manufacturers and power plants.

Inhofe’s legislation barring the EPA from regulating carbon emissions will come to the floor in the coming week. Similar legislation co-sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and Energy & Power subcommittee chairman Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, passed the House earlier this month.

Whitfield told TheDC that using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions only serves to encourage environmental lawsuits and aid environmental groups with fundraising.

“I don’t believe they are being consistent when it comes down to reality,” Whitfield said.

The Environmental Defense Fund sought to rebut accusations that environmentalists have been hypocritical on green energy and sought to push the focus back on Inhofe and Whitfield.

EDF spokesman Tony Kreindler told TheDC that groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and individuals such as Inhofe have little credibility in criticizing environmentalists for being “hypocrites” on green energy.

“Every year they do what they can to hold up legislation that would make green energy more economical,” Kreindler said. “For one, the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill in the Congress last year that would have leveled the playing field between fossil fuels and cleaner fuels, and any attempt to put together similar legislation along those lines in the Senate.

“To my knowledge, they have never supported any green energy bill in the Congress.”