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Energy-project openness

Renewable energy is supposed to be clean and green. It's supposed to assure us that when we turn on our lights or cool ourselves with air conditioners, we are not harming the environment.

Renewable energy is supposed to be clean and green. It's supposed to assure us that when we turn on our lights or cool ourselves with air conditioners, we are not harming the environment.

Such assurances are made through the strictures of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 34-year-old law first sponsored by the Republican Party, particularly President Nixon.

So we were a bit surprised when, on June 4, U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican from California, introduced a bill that would exempt "renewable"-electricity generators from many of the NEPA strictures designed to protect both public and environmental interests by keeping the decision-making process open.

And we were even more surprised when the bill was cattle-prodded through the House this summer by a vote of 229 to 186. There was no hearing, precious little notice given to the public, and roughly an hour of floor debate.

"There was really no time to even comment on the bill," says environmental advocate Andrew Fahlund, of American Rivers, a national environmental group. "This seems to be quite consistent with the intent of the bill, which is to limit the ability of the public to comment on energy projects."

During the short floor discussion, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall said that the bill's true designation ought to be "the act to gut the National Environmental Policy Act."

We strongly... [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Renewable energy is supposed to be clean and green. It's supposed to assure us that when we turn on our lights or cool ourselves with air conditioners, we are not harming the environment.

Such assurances are made through the strictures of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 34-year-old law first sponsored by the Republican Party, particularly President Nixon.

So we were a bit surprised when, on June 4, U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican from California, introduced a bill that would exempt "renewable"-electricity generators from many of the NEPA strictures designed to protect both public and environmental interests by keeping the decision-making process open.

And we were even more surprised when the bill was cattle-prodded through the House this summer by a vote of 229 to 186. There was no hearing, precious little notice given to the public, and roughly an hour of floor debate.

"There was really no time to even comment on the bill," says environmental advocate Andrew Fahlund, of American Rivers, a national environmental group. "This seems to be quite consistent with the intent of the bill, which is to limit the ability of the public to comment on energy projects."

During the short floor discussion, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall said that the bill's true designation ought to be "the act to gut the National Environmental Policy Act."

We strongly support emerging energy technologies that are clean and environmentally safe -- but not at such a price. Wind-generated electricity is a great thing, but there have been poorly sited projects, at Altamont Pass, in California, and FPL Energy's Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, in West Virginia. At both sites, inordinate numbers of animals have been killed, simply for lack of proper science.

Our nation's National Environmental Policy Act is a hopeful law, designed to promote openness and teamwork. Passed way back in 1970, it emerged just after the first images of our blue planet were beamed to us from outer space. Seeing those first riveting pictures, we all realized that our globe is a finite resource.

The NEPA enjoyed nearly unanimous support in those days, as it tried to help both developers and the public learn the real costs of proposed projects -- be they energy systems, housing developments, or even schools. Although the NEPA has little in the way of teeth, it seeks to answer the question: What does this project really mean for the environment?

In this spirit of cooperation, we see no legitimate reason for electricity generators using new technologies not to be held to the same standard as any other energy enterprise.

Indeed, because they market themselves to a well-meaning public that sometimes chooses to pay an extra premium for "green" electricity, renewable-energy companies should voluntarily hold themselves to an even higher standard.

To become law, Representative Pombo's misguided NEAP-gutting bill must pass muster in the U.S. Senate. Let's hope that this doesn't happen


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AUG 24 2004
http://www.windaction.org/posts/144-energy-project-openness
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