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Just Who Runs America?

That question came to mind after reading a story in Friday’s Los Angeles Times in which the newspaper reported that:

“America's headlong rush to tap its enormous coal reserves for electricity has slowed abruptly, with more than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants in 20 states canceled or delayed in 2007 because of concerns about climate change, construction costs and transportation problems.”

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch focused on the roll that environmental groups are playing by writing:

“In federal and state courtrooms across the country, environmental groups are putting coal-fueled power plants on trial in a bid to slow the industry's biggest construction boom in decades.

“At least four dozen coal plants are being contested in 29 states, according to a recent Associated Press tally. The targeted utilities include such giants as Peabody Energy and American Electric Power down to small rural cooperatives.

“In Virginia, environmental groups have rallied to the side of Wise County residents who oppose Dominion Virginia Power's plans to build a $1.6 billion coal-fired power plant outside St. Paul.

“The plant, supported by county officials, would help the company meet an anticipated surge in demand for electricity, but it also would be one of the biggest polluters in the state if built and operated to Dominion's specifications.”

Who is looking out for the energy needs of Americans? And  where is the energy going to come from when automakers start producing cars that run on electricity? From these two stories, and other recent news, it seems that environmentalists have joined forces with left-leaning politicians to tie-up energy producers into a ball of red-tape.

The environmentalists seem to have the gotten the upper hand, however. As Doug Bandow writes in the September 1993 issue of The Freeman:

“In the abstract, greater attention to environmental matters would seem to be a positive trend. After all, no one wants to breath polluted air. No one wants to visit an Everglades that is dying or see Yellowstone’s Old Faithful replaced by condominiums. And who could not be concerned about the possibility of a warming environment, threatening ozone holes, and the specter of acid rain?

“The problem, however, is that the environment has become a hostage to politics. Many environmental activists want more than a clean environment. Their commitment to conservation and political action is religious, and their goals are often far-reaching: to transform what they consider to be a sick, greedy, and wasteful consumer society. As a result, many otherwise well-meaning people have proved quite willing to use state power to force potentially draconian social changes irrespective of numerous important alternative values, including freedom, health, and prosperity.

“The real political divide is not between right and left, conservative and liberal, or Republican and Democrat. Rather, it is between market process and central planning, the free market and command and control by the government. Most politicians believe in government solutions. They may not be consistent in the specific ways they want the state to intervene, but they like government involvement. Although liberal enthusiasm for state action is best known, conservatives, too, often want government to rearrange environmental outcomes arbitrarily. There are no more fervent supporters of irrigation projects that deliver below-cost water to farmers, subsidies to promote logging on public lands, and cut-rate range fees on federal grazing land for ranchers than Republican legislators.”

As Bandow noted in opening his essay, “Eight of ten Americans call themselves environmentalists.” but as George Reisman, writes in an essay in 2001 for the Mises Institute:

“A rational response to the possibility of large-scale environmental change is to establish the economic freedom of individuals to deal with it, if and when it comes. Capitalism and the free market are the essential means of doing this, not paralyzing government controls and ‘environmentalism.’”

Seems rather rational to us! But are the environmentalists listening? And do they care? Better question: are America's politicians listening to ordinary American citizens?

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