The Frontal Cortex

Environmentalism Run Amok

In the search for renewable energy, environmentalists are sometimes the bad guys. And no, I’m not talking about nuclear energy (although I’m in favor of building new nuclear plants). I’m talking about the new attempt to squeeze electricity from the perpetual swells of the ocean. In a rational world, environmentalists would champion such an energy source, since no greenhouse gases are produced and the earth provides it for free. Alas, that hasn’t been the case:

While such generators do not emit smoky pollutants or leave behind radioactive waste, the [wave] machines are not small or delicate, and can be an eyesore. To draw energy from the ocean, they often need to be rooted on sea floors relatively close to shore, or mounted on rocks on the shore — places that have not traditionally been used for energy generation.

And despite their green-friendly intentions, inventors [of wave energy machines] are finding some of the stiffest resistance is coming from environmental groups.

Take the case of Verdant Power, Mr. Corren’s company, which has been trying for years to erect a small field of tidal turbines in the East River — a project that may finally get started this fall. Verdant embarked on a new East River turbine project in 2003, but it has taken two and a half years to get regulatory approval for the project from environmental agencies and the United States Army Corp of Engineers. The issue was not blocking the river to boat traffic, or how it would hook up to the electrical grid or even how it might mar the view, because it is mostly underwater. It was the fish population of the East River.

“We had eight fish biologists against it, and no one on the other side advocating for clean air” or other environmental issues, said Ronald F. Smith, the chief executive of Verdant Power. “You can see that the regulatory process is extremely biased towards doing nothing,” Mr. Smith said, adding that regulators were worried about complaints that could arise from any new projects.

The brute fact is that economies need electricity. It’s time environmentalists discover their inner pragmatist, and realize that while no energy source is perfect, some are much better than others. We have to pick our battles, and I don’t think wave energy is a battle we ought to fight.

Comments

  1. #1 mgr
    August 3, 2006

    Um…the issue does not appear to be with ‘environmentalists’ but “environmentalist agencies” such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, USFWS, and possibly NMFS. It is probably linked to the 404 permit required to get the work started.

    What they are complaining about is the biological assessment, and possibly the biological opinion written by USFWS. This documentation only addresses the impact of the undertaking to species and habitats of concern.

    It is the environmental assessment (EIS, FONSI), which is not an element of the NEPA nexus associated with the Corps permit, that one may argue costs and benefits.

    One should address this article with caution given the recent USSC decision on the ACOE involvement with wetlands, as additional anectdotal evidence that may lead reducing our nation’s committment to protecting the waters of the US.

    Mike

  2. #2 Benjamin Cohen
    August 3, 2006

    I really couldn’t disagree more with the guiding assumption that our goal is to elevate energy use to maintain an economy. Our economy has always been in flux, and the recent (post-Reagan, post-Cold War) surge in energy use has apparently embedded the unquestioned assumption that the only way we can survive in this world is by using yet more energy. There are ways to improve our situation –and here we have to debate what “our situation” is — through lower-energy use measures, so that I don’t agree that a pragmatic environmentalist is one who accedes to “the economy” as the motor of human decision-making. Why do we have to structure our actions on and with the environment based on the sanctity of “economy”? What kind of economy has created this problem? What other kinds of economies are possible? Even other variants of capitalism (though I don’t mean here that the answer is *the opposite* of capitalism)? Why do we assume that “economy” means one thing, and that one thing is in charge of defining what is pragmatic?

  3. #3 Michael G. Richard
    August 3, 2006

    I just want to point out that we at Treehugger.com at 100% for wave-power, and that the people that I know at WorldChanging.com are for it too.

    In fact, I don’t know anybody against it.

  4. #4 Jose
    August 4, 2006

    Environmental Fundementalists are their own worst enemy. We’re living in the midst of a mass extinction and some of them are basicaly throwing tantrums over things which when viewed in perspective are just plain silly.

    We’re storing our nuclear waste in leaky swimming pools that were never designed for long term storage because environmentalists block any attempt to move that waste anywhere else. It’s sheer stupidity but par for the course.