VTDigger’s commentary page recently featured a call to Kumbaya by Brian Tokar, UVM lecturer and board member of 350Vermont. His argument is that our debate over renewable energy has been toxified by extreme positions taken by both sides:
On one hand, groups like VPIRG and Renewable Energy Vermont have staked out a position that any possible limitations on large-scale projects represent an existential threat to our appropriately ambitious renewable energy goals. On the other side are those who view all utility-scaled developments as an assault on our precious lands and wildlife habitats, among other concerns.
His characterization of pro-renewable advocates is 100% pure bullshit. Nobody from VPIRG or REV or Iberdrola or The Secret Blittersdorf Cabal is opposed to “any possible limitations” on renewable siting. In fact, they just spent a laborious 2016 legislative session working with all interested parties on a revised siting bill that allows for local input.
It was the other side that refuses to come to the table, insists on nothing less than full veto power for local governments, and depicts anyone who disagrees with them as corrupt toadies of rich, powerful, foreign interests.
There’s a lot of false equivalency on this issue — the “both sides do it” meme about national politics that’s so persistent among Beltway types. Remember the first two years of President Obama’s tenure, when he repeatedly tried to reach across the aisle and open a dialogue, only to get slapped down by intransigent Republicans?
That same dynamic is at work in the renewable siting debate, no matter how strongly Mr. Tokar wants to play the Obama role in a campfire singalong.
An almost identical, and inaccurate, call to Kumbaya was sounded shortly before the Vermont primary by the guy who got me into the blogging business, John Odum. He used descriptors like “roiling hysteria”, “visceral fury”, and “electoral rabies” for the reaction by environmentalists and others (me) to Matt Dunne’s belated “clarification” of his position on renewable siting.
The reactions to Dunne were harsh, to be sure — although I think John may have been exaggerating for polemical effect. (Something I never do, cough, choke.) But they sprung from understandable causes, to wit:
— As stated above, those environmental groups had worked long and hard to pass a siting bill that addressed the reasonable concerns of local officials and residents. They saw Dunne’s position shift as undermining all that work and reopening the debate.
— Dunne’s maneuver was so transparently political that it activated the latent but widely-held view of him as an opportunist who couldn’t be trusted.
— The reaction was compressed due to Dunne’s timing — less than two weeks before the primary. Didn’t help that Dunne issued his statement on a Friday afternoon. It was a complete surprise, and there was no time for dialogue. The reaction built over the weekend, and was at full throat by Monday morning.
— Advocates of renewable energy are properly sick and tired of getting tarred and feathered by their opponents, and of this false-equivalency narrative employed by Dunne, Odum, Tokar, and others.
Because truth be told, one side and one side only is responsible for virtually all of the roiling hysteria and visceral fury. It’s the people on the other side of the issue.
They’re the ones who peddle junk science. They’re the ones who stage angry confrontations with renewable advocates. They’re the ones who’ve alienated most of the Statehouse* with their intransigence. They’re the ones who will accept nothing less than full capitulation to their demands. They’re the ones, just as a for instance, who found Dunne’s new position completely unacceptable and rebuked him in the strongest possible language.
*Even some of their legislative allies wish they’d STFU.
The development of Vermont’s renewables policy has been a slow, steady accretion over two decades or more, and three separate gubernatorial administrations. Nothing has been rushed or sneaked. The process has been painstaking, and it has been transparent.
You can look at the record. Every issue about renewable energy has been studied and studied and studied again. Environmental impact, human health, wildlife habitat, water runoff, lasting impacts on land, even the old “whirling blades kill birds” shibboleth. The science is clear, and virtually all of it is on the side of renewable energy.
This leads to another whole aspect of this false-equivalency stuff. It’s how the media generally reports on issues related to renewable energy. They quote one person on one side and one person on the other and call it “balanced” as if the two sides are equal in weight and worth.
It’s fundamentally misleading when the media do it about climate change, and it’s just as wrong when they’re writing about renewables and tacitly give oppositionalists the same stature as advocates and state policymakers.
So, if people like me sometimes get a little cranky about this stuff, maybe now you know why.