Interior moves to develop solar on public lands; environmentalists doth protest

To begin: There are multiple different types of people who fall under the category of “environmentalists.” There are the vaguely green-loving, usually urban-dwelling, smugly ‘hip’ types who accept the latest eco-trends (like electric cars and hemp grocery bags and wind energy) as automatic wisdom from on high without doing any research or critical thinking of their own; there are the grungy, hardcore, sometimes borderline violent activists just looking for something to believe in who get just a little too involved in their chosen environmental groups; and then there are the rent-seeking, power-mongering, lobbying, crony-corporatist types who’ve realized that the western world’s governments’ various decisions to prop up politically-favored technologies (usually in order to appeal to voters of the first environmental-ilk I mentioned) presents a major opportunity, among others. I don’t have any doubt that there are plenty of greenies who honestly want to make the world a better, cleaner place (and I’m all for any type of renewable energy that can survive the test of free-market competition, huzzah!), and I’m sure that there are many scientists, academics, and environmental groups with the best of intentions. But there’s plenty about the mainstream environmental movement that teaches people how to not think for themselves — and don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s somehow nobler and more immune from politics than other industries, ’cause there’s plenty of money to be had in it.

The Obama administration has catered to and courted this large tent of environmental voters with their various Energy Department loan-guarantee programs and their arbitrary emissions standards, and I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the Department of Interior, as their bureaucracy’s many inefficiencies, oversights, and backwards policies are single-handedly responsible for a huge heap of environmental degradation. In particular, it’s pretty galling that the Interior Department under Obama has steadily denied a whole mess of permits for oil-and-gas drilling on federal land to private-sector, productive-jobs-providing companies who’d like to do so, but willingly put aside millions of acres of federal (i.e., our) land to allow for the development of government-sponsored solar farms. Human Events reports, however, that at least some environmentalists aren’t actually too keen on that idea:

But several environmental groups led by the Western Lands Project (WLP) filed a protest with the Interior Department on Aug. 24 calling the plan “deficient,” citing evidence they say suggests that disturbing the soil will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“No scientific evidence has been presented to support the claim that these projects reduce greenhouse emissions,” the WLP said. “Indeed, recent evidence suggests that the opposite may be true. Recent work at the Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, suggests that soil disturbance from large-scale solar development may disrupt Pleistocene-era caliche deposits that release carbon to the atmosphere when exposed to the elements,” negating any solar development gains. …

“By converting public lands to industrial energy factories in fragile, remote areas with massive requirements for transmission at great cost to ratepayers and the environment, our renewable energy policy is taking the least enlightened path possible, while attempting to create the illusion of innovation and progress,” WLP said.

Sorry, Interior — you can’t please ’em all. But this is the very problem with the federal government picking winners and losers in the energy market and controlling so many of our assets: The government can’t possibly predict all of the neighborhood effects that will come as a result of their policies, and because of their political goals, they don’t usually care to try. When something doesn’t work, the policy is spared the quick death of free-market competition and instead allowed to live on in entrenched, bureaucratized folly — and in this case, the environment is the cost. Oh, the tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to centrally plan!

To conclude: There is another type of environmentalist I’ve yet to mention. I’m always bemused when, after telling my friends that they should rethink the ostensible wisdom of recycling, they give me dagger-eyes worthy of my having suggested something downright perfidious — because you’d be hard pressed to find someone more crunchy and outdoorsy and planet-lovin’ than myself. I just happen to think that free enterprise, efficiency and innovation born of competition, and private property can do more for the environment in the long run than big government — works every time.