December 27, 2009

Green talk vs. green action / Feinstein’s scuttling of solar, wind projects a baffling mistake

San Diego Union-Tribune

Every week seems to bring a new development that underscores the incoherence of the environmental movement, which believes global warming is the world’s most pressing problem yet is often the biggest roadblock to efforts to address the problem by developing cleaner sources of energy.

The latest example: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s push to protect 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert, which inevitably will kill 13 major solar power and wind power projects planned for the area.

Feinstein offered some plausible explanations for her stand, starting with the fact that a quarter of the acreage was donated to the federal government with the expectation it would be preserved. She also noted the availability of other areas for the solar and wind projects and introduced a bill with a tax credit meant to encourage solar plants on private land.

Nevertheless, any veneer of reasonableness disappears when one takes into account that California’s utilities face hard deadlines to provide one-third of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Feinstein has unilaterally complicated efforts to comply with this deadline by scuttling projects with completed development plans and billions of dollars in established financing. She also may have set a disastrous precedent under which individual lawmakers, if the land were in their districts, would have de facto veto power over solar and wind power projects on prime sites among the 1 million square miles of land owned by the federal government.

President George W. Bush in 2005 ordered efforts to make it easier to develop renewable energy projects on this land, an effort supported by his successor, Barack Obama.

Yet the Obama administration also seems more open to letting environmentalists block projects – even as it seeks a federal law mandating much higher use of renewable energy, as California has done. This doesn’t add up.

This president already has had one Nixon-goes-to-China moment on a major public policy issue, telling a key Democratic constituency – teacher unions – that weeding out poor teachers is crucial to improving schools.

Now he needs to have another such moment. Obama should tell environmentalists that they need to reconcile their macro view – we must save the world by shifting to cleaner energy – with their micro record of making this shift much more difficult. It’s time for green action to match green talk.

This certainly holds true for California’s senior senator. Incoherent is not normally an adjective applied to Dianne Feinstein, but in this case, it fits.