“…self-interest run riot”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s exploitation of his family name to attack the Cape Wind project should make anyone concerned about the environment gloomy. His book attacking the Bush Administration’s global warming inaction is still on the shelves, but he’s decided to lend his legacy as well as his environmentalist credentials to those attacking a wind energy project in the ocean off Cape Cod because…because…well, they own property in the area and they just don’t want to look at wind turbines.

Kennedy’s op-ed on the topic in Friday’s NY Times was a combination of kitchen sink arguments (everything from the long-discredited bird-kill myths to his alleged concerns that the turbines will cause shipwrecks on foggy days) and implicit threats:

Many environmental groups support the Cape Wind project, and that’s unfortunate because making enemies of fishermen and marina owners is bad environmental strategy in the long run. Cape Cod’s traditional-gear commercial fishing families and its recreational anglers and marina owners have all been important allies for environmentalists in our battles for clean water.

Talk about bad environmental strategy: RFK Jr. actually argues the Cape Wind project would not be economically feasible were it not for federal and state subsidies. He should know this statement could be made about virtually every wind energy project in the nation! Subsidies, tax credits and the like are vital to allowing sustainable energy projects to gain a toehold until such time as they can be cost-competitive.

I’m sure Kennedy favors public support for every other wind energy project–just not the one that happens to be in his family’s backyard. But his words will be used against all of them.

Here’s the real problem, though. Kennedy’s NIMBYism feeds a myth that there “are many alternatives that would achieve the same benefits” as the project to which he objects. Well, that’s not really true.

Wind usable for energy is not just anywhere and everywhere. Wind energy is a renewable resource–in fact an inexhaustable resource. But it is not unlimited, because wind doesn’t blow everywhere at sufficient speeds and frequencies to make siting facilities cost-effective.

A large number of the best candidate sites for wind energy are currently undeveloped and could be classified as wilderness. Optimally, you wouldn’t build anything on wilderness locations, but if you start eliminating those sites, it won’t take long for wind energy to fall off the table as a viable alternative energy strategy. Nantucket Sound is a beautiful place, but is it more beautiful than the California Poppy Reserve, near Tehachapi? Near there is another good site for wind energy–and a controversial one. If the Kennedy family owned a ranch out there, his op-ed would’ve had a different title, but it would have made the same case.

In his recent book, Kennedy complained about the corporate influence on government decisions affecting the environment as “self-interest run riot.” His op-ed was a good example of what he was talking about.

P.S. Kennedy joining the NIMBYs has had another effect: He’s given aid and comfort to the very people he called out in his book and through his activism. The conservative websites are all over this story. Please–if you fly around in a private jet, you’re not the person to be attacking SUVs. And if you fight a wind energy project because your wealthy neighbors don’t like it, then you’re not the person to be fighting Bush/Cheney on global warming.

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