Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Just Build Them Please 

Note: This Guest Column was published in the Farmville Herald in December 2018, and it was written in response to a number of opposition letters to the editor about three different projects being considered in the local area and region.

I have been casually observing the permitting processes for several area projects—the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Green Ridge landfill in Cumberland, and the student housing on the Martin property. Now, I feel compelled to speak out at the risk of offending certain constituencies. Can we just get on and build these projects?!

Before you dismiss me as some minion of industry, consider my background. I was the founding treasurer of an environmental group in Wyoming that was formed to stop an oil well on the national forest near Yellowstone. When that effort failed, I watched the group succumb to cause fever in their zealous efforts to save the earth. After that I made the transformation from environmentalist to conservationist which means I consider mankind to be part of the landscape and responsible for good stewardship (wise use) of resources.

One of the constants of life is change. Everybody wants progress, but it is the change they don’t like. Several counties in the area have for decades had an anti-growth attitude. Now, those same counties find themselves unable to provide even the most basic of public services without raising tax rates on the citizens who already struggle to get by. When a large project comes along that will create jobs and add significant value to the local tax base, a small cadre of opponents rise up and adamantly oppose the project. We have transcended from the Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) attitude to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Buckingham compressor station has been rigorously analyzed and is likely the most thoroughly vetted pipeline in American history. Ironically, the Buckingham citizens fighting the new pipeline have been living near an existing pipeline that has operated for decades without any significant impacts. According to the US Energy Information Administration, there are 210 different major pipeline systems that comprise about 1.5 million miles of pipe in the USA. There are another 1.5 million miles of consumer gas distribution lines in America. Serious pipeline accidents (those accidents that result in fatality or injury requiring hospitalization) have ranged from 70 per year in 1998 to 24 in 2017. Nothing in life can be accident free, but overall natural gas pipelines are extremely safe. Regarding the opponent’s claims about the health effects of emissions from the compressor station, perhaps some research about the emissions from wood stoves used extensively in the area, including formaldehyde and other aldehydes, would be enlightening.

The Green Ridge landfill in Cumberland will be a state-of-the-art facility that will handle garbage from around the region, but will also serve the needs of Cumberland residents. About half of the 1,144 acre site will be buffer between the working part of the landfill and its neighbors. In a recent 50 Years Ago Today section of the Farmville Herald, I read about the 200 informal dumps alongside roads in Prince Edward. The county supervisors’ solution back then was to build five unlined, open-trench dump sites. I believe worrying about garbage being processed and disposed of in a modern, highly regulated facility is misplaced fear. And, as for the truck traffic, I heard the same fears expressed about the Luck Stone facility on US 460 west of Farmville. I drive that road almost daily. I have yet to even be slowed down by trucks entering or leaving the site, and to my knowledge, there has not been a single accident associated with that truck traffic.

Lastly, I believe the Martins should be allowed to build student housing on the corner of Oak and High Streets. I can’t think of a more suitable location for student housing than right across the street from Longwood. For most Americans, their homes are their most significant asset and source of retirement. I believe it is wrong to deny the Martins their opportunity to divest of a costly old home and finance their golden years. Imagine you’re playing Monopoly. You’re fortunate enough to acquire Boardwalk and Park Place. You hold on to it, build up some cash, and when you go to put a hotel on your properties, suddenly the rules are changed, and you are denied. Regarding the historic district designation, all old homes are not historically significant.

We can grow our economy, keep our community character, preserve our history, and protect our environment. This is not a zero sum game. The demand for affordable energy is increasing, especially if we are going to provide jobs for our citizens. The volume of garbage produced every day is growing, and we need places to properly dispose of it in the most environmentally sound way. And, we need housing to accommodate our growing university and student body, and right across the street from Longwood is the most logical place for that to happen. So, in the broader interest of the region and its people, can we please just build these projects?
Musings of a Climate-Change Skeptic 

Note: This column was published in the Farmville Herald in August 2018, in response to a letter to the editor. Four different Longwood University professors responded to my assertions in two subsequent Guest Columns to which I wrote a rebuttal.

I must respond to a recent LTE regarding climate change. By way of background, I graduated from UC San Diego’s Revelle College with a degree in biology and economics, so I have a science background. Moreover, I have over 30 years of conservation and environmental policy experience at the federal and state levels in the legislative and executive branches.

One of the first things you learn as a policymaker is that science informs policy; it does not establish policy. The reasons are simple. First, science is usually narrowly focused on a specific issue or challenge while policy has broad-based implications and impacts on a much wider spectrum of disciplines including science, economics, sociology, and governance. Second, science is wildly inconsistent, and all too often, scientists have become political advocates with pre-determined outcomes driving their scientific processes.

In a time when we hear daily about “scientific” studies—mostly statistical correlations with no determination of cause and effect—that suggest conclusions such as “90% of women who eat chocolate during pregnancy have happier children,” we should be skeptical. My point is that “science” is a term that is thrown around flippantly in an attempt to discredit anyone who has the temerity to disagree. More importantly, scientists by nature are skeptical, and the notion that there is consensus about any scientific theory is ludicrous. Science is never “done.”

Regarding climate change, or more accurately anthropogenic catastrophic global warming, here are some things to consider.

  • Yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes warming and mankind is putting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. 
  • CO2 makes up 6% of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and H2O (water vapors) makes up 90%. 
  • There is no “ideal” average global temperature and an increase of 2-3 Fahrenheit over 100 years is not significant in a world where on any given day some place is -40 F and another is 120 F. 
  • Cold is much more dangerous to all life forms and kills more people each year than heat. 
  • CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been as much as 10-20 times higher during nearly every other geologic period of the earth. The atmospheric CO2 levels in 1850 were near record lows. 
  • CO2 is plant food—essential to all vegetative growth—and higher CO2 levels have resulted in more plant growth and crop production around the globe. 
  • Global temperature has been rising since the end of the Little Ice Age (around 1850), but have not reached the temperatures seen during the Medieval Warming Period—when Vikings were growing grapes in Greenland—or those of the Roman Warming Period. 
  • Sea levels have been rising for centuries, but the rate of sea level rise has declined in recent decades. 
  • The frequency and severity of droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding are not increasing, but the 24/7 media cycle makes every event “newsworthy.” 
  • There is no evidence that the acidity of the oceans is increasing, but the acidity of oceans does vary widely around the world. 
  • Suggesting that developing countries go without carbon-based energy in the form of electricity condemns the world’s poor to starvation, food poisoning, diseases, and poverty. It is the modern-day equivalent of “Let them eat cake.” 
  • Without abundant and affordable electricity that can only be provided by fossil fuels, billions of people around the world will continue to cook and heat by burning wood and dung, and as a result, millions of people will continue to die each year from the indoor pollution caused by wood and dung smoke. 
  • According to the “climate change experts,” spending (redistributing) a trillion dollars a year on climate change policies will only reduce the increase in global temperature over 100 years by a fraction of a degree. 
There are bigger and more important issues facing humanity, and there are ways to address them that will achieve the desired outcomes. Worrying about climate change and whatever, if any, role humans may have in it is tantamount to encountering a grizzly bear and wondering when you last had your teeth cleaned by the dentist.