For more than a decade, I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the lack of honesty in politics and have observed a vast chasm between the professed ideologies of BOTH liberals and conservatives and the Reality of their actions. If I allowed myself to vent about the stunning hypocrisy of politics at the national level my rant would fill far more column inches than would ever fit in this publication, so let me limit my disaffection to my own neck of the woods.
It’s no secret that a decade or so ago, I became disillusioned with my environmentalist friends whose once honest efforts to protect the remaining wildlands of Utah in their purest form, gave way to the huckster-like promotion of ‘wilderness’ as a product to be packaged and sold. In fact, at the infamous ‘Wilderness Mentoring Conference of 1998,” a prominently displayed quote by Michael Carroll, now of The Wilderness Society, established the tone and direction of all that would come later:
“Car companies and makers of sports drinks use wilderness to sell their products. We have to market wilderness as a product people want to have.”
Seeking protection for wilderness became a bewildering and conflicted pursuit for me as I saw the environmental community turn a blind eye to the dangers and impacts caused by recreation and tourism. Almost 20 years ago, a leading Utah environmentalist warned that “industrial tourism” created “more potential to disrupt natural processes on a broad scale than just about anything else.” Today, you’d never hear that sentiment expressed out loud.
The great conservation writer Wendell Berry once noted, “this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience.” He added, “To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault.”
Honest words that fall on deaf ears these days. As Monticello’s neighbor to the north explodes with more motels and more gridlock, with predominantly low-paying jobs and with affordable housing a fading memory, clearly many “progressives” have lost touch with their own core values.
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But what about Conservatives? Even right here in San Juan County…do they stay loyal and true to their core beliefs?
Consider the recent arrival of the Latigo Wind Farm with its 27 massive turbines, sprawled across the foothills of the Abajo Mountains just north of Monticello. The project has generated considerable debate and discussion among San Juan County residents. Some locals like Latigo, others loathe the project.
In a recent San Juan Record editorial, publisher Bill Boyle made the case FOR the turbines, noting that a preponderance of land in the county is publicly owned; consequently, he explained, the county needs to take advantage of whatever industry can be generated on private land. Bill wrote, “In a time of a decreasing tax base, the Latigo Wind Farm will help local governments maintain services and stem tax increases.” Bill urged support for Latigo and added, “Don’t forget that it truly is a private investment of private money on private property.”
But when the story was posted on the San Juan Record’s facebook page, San Juan County resident Scott Mitchell asked, “‘truly private investment’? How so if if it is subsidized?”
Bill Boyle replied, “A large number of industries receive subsidies of one type or another, but that does not determine if they are private or public. This includes farming, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications, utilities, financial, health care, housing, education, defense. The list goes on and on.”
That may be true, but to me, this kind of argument diminishes the credibility and honesty of the conservative cause. Bill, in effect, is saying, ‘everybody else takes federal money, why shouldn’t we? It’s just the way it is.’
Isn’t that EXACTLY why it’s difficult to take conservative opposition to federal spending very seriously? The alternative energy subsidy program is a favorite of the Obama Administration, a Democratic president, who dramatically expanded subsidies for wind and solar projects across the country and who recently pushed to make the subsidies permanent. How is it possible that in Monticello, especially, so many of its citizens can find favor with a federal program promoted by a president they seem to, in all other ways, despise?
I recently looked up the voting results for Monticello in the last presidential election. Mitt Romney collected 856 votes to Obama’s 95. Romney won the support of 90.1% of Monticello residents; Obama just 9.9%. Clearly there is little support for the policies of the Obama Administration. And yet, opposition to the wind farm has been muted at best.
In an opinion piece for The Hill, called, “Wind Subsidies Survive on Back Room Deals,” Christine Harbin, deputy director of Federal Affairs for Americans for Prosperity, argued, “The Left says that it wants to inspire creativity and opportunity in the energy space and elsewhere, but they rely on old-school top-down handouts and mandates. Government-directed innovation simply doesn’t work …American taxpayers have seen very little return on our forced investment in wind energy over the past 20 years, especially in terms of long-term job creation and economic viability. Worse, decades on, the industry continues to lean on taxpayers and rely on special-interest, government giveaways.”
The conservative Institute for Energy Research complained, “In his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, President Obama wants to make the major wind subsidy (the production tax credit or PTC as it is commonly called) permanent. For the past 23 years, the American taxpayer has subsidized wind power to the tune of tens of billions of dollars without seeing any major contribution to U.S. energy supply.”
The climate change-denying website, cfact.org, in an article called, “Wind Subsidies a Massive Failure, wrote, “What is astonishing is the way both the U.S. and Europe adopted renewable energy production because it is unpredictable and mindlessly expensive. A major factor why the global warming hoax is collapsing is that it has cost everyone here and in Europe billions in loans and subsidies. Both solar and wind require a backup from traditional power sources that utilize coal, oil, and natural gas.”
Opinions from the Right were almost unanimous. Breibart offered this headline: “Wind Turbines are ‘Expensive, Unreliable, and Inefficient.'” The Washington Times complained that, “Wind Energy Gambles with Taxpayer Chip.” Another ‘The Hill’ headline proclaimed, “Wind Power Production tax credit: Wall St. wolf in green clothing.”
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Keep in mind, these aren’t my own views on alternative energy, they are the outspoken voices of America’s conservative movement. Personally, I like the idea of wind and solar power, but on a much smaller scale. The technology for rooftop solar is already available and could be implemented across the country. Imagine being able to reduce your monthly electric bill via the photovoltaic panels mounted on your roof. And I love the idea of being free and clear, or at least less dependent upon the Big Energy Companies that we are always beholden to.
I’d also have been in favor of wind power for Monticello, had a local wind farm been constructed for the purpose of reducing the town’s dependence on, and cost from, traditional power sources and Empire Electric. Again, the technology is there; all the idea lacks is the political will to do something different.
But ‘alternative energy’ on a corporate level, subsidized by the government, fails to impress me. It’s just business as usual, in an artificially green suit.
And yet, across America, the only conservative strongholds that embrace and support federal wind subsidies are the ones who–you guessed it—RECEIVE federal wind money. Even Sam Brownback, the ultra-Right Republican governor of Kansas turns a blind eye to his own pronounced opposition to runaway federal spending and quietly takes the wind money and runs.
But it took a billionaire DEMOCRAT to sum it up best. While other ‘progressives’ claim to support wind energy as a viable option and a way to save the world, Warren Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska in 2014, “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate. For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
In San Juan County, I understand that the wind farm was built on private land and that it was the landowners’ decision to lease their property. Fair enough. But that isn’t the issue here. Wind subsidies are the topic of the debate—in Monticello, a town where 90% of the residents opposed President Obama in the last election, one would think that an equal number would be in opposition to federally mandated wind subsidies. But clearly support for the subsidies is stronger than that. The bottom line is—without the federal subsidies, ‘private’ developments like Latigo would never have happened.
And so it comes as a surprise, to me at least, to discover how many Closet Obama Lovers apparently reside on the flanks of my beloved Blue Mountains. Personally, I kind of like the guy too, at least some times, even if we sharply disagree on corporate wind farms and the federal money that makes them possible.
The world continues to astound me.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.
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