Perverse incentives in CEQA/NEPA foster global warming

Incidentally, on Jan. 7, the entire Australian continent experienced an all-time record average temperature of 104.59 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s global warming in action.

The day after Christmas 2012, Donna Tisdale and her associated entities filed suit (Tisdale suit) in federal court in an attempt to delay construction of a 1.7-mile transmission line that has only three towers spanning 0.65 miles in the United States. Referred to as a generator tie line or “Gen-Tie,” it crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near Old Highway 80, four miles east of Jacumba, Calif. The desert borderland above which the Gen-Tie will pass is crisscrossed by numerous dirt roads and paths.

The Gen-Tie is committed to carry 1250 megawatts of 100 percent renewable electricity from wind generators in Mexico. Since wind turbines produce electricity day and night without emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the Gen-Tie will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both the United States and Mexico, thus reducing future global warming, as burning natural gas or coal to produce electricity can be substantially replaced by large-scale wind power.

This relatively tiny project has for years been the focus of delays from Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Tisdale, even as it will strongly aid the fight against global warming.

Unfortunately, no matter their merit or urgency, California and U.S. environmental laws create perverse financial and political incentives to block or delay such projects. Mere delay has financial settlement value. The Tisdale suit, inter alia, seeks attorney fees.

Tisdale’s lawsuit is typical of the slow-walk approach now offered by the environmental community to combat emissions of global-warming greenhouse gases: slowly study and sue, not rapidly reduce. Sadly, insatiable studies will not bring lost time back in a bottle. Studies don’t timely and adequately eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they delay deployment of improved or transformative renewable energy technology.

Despite preparation of an extraordinarily complete, 3-volume federal NEPA Environmental Impact Study (EIS), the Tisdale lawsuit demands a myriad of further environmental studies. Tisdale insists that, in effect, the project must stop and study every possibly imagined piece of equipment that might anywhere in Mexico cause carbon-free electricity to be carried into the United States.

Any well informed, thinking person worried about the imminent and incredibly broad harm caused by global warming, must consider such further delay unacceptable, especially as it sustains the status quo emissions of greenhouse gases. The status quo is endangering wildlife everywhere, as they cannot use air conditioning, piped water, or trucked food to survive heat and drought.

The lawsuit expresses pro forma concern for golden eagle studies. Let’s pragmatically consider how eagles of all kinds are going to achieve delivery of prey and water in their habitat when massive and increasing droughts drastically reduce water, then plants, then rodents and the food supply of hawks, owls, and eagles across hundreds of thousands of square miles. You see, carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels causes global warming that increase droughts, and droughts kill a plethora of wildlife. Delay offers little solace.

Tisdale’s lawsuit offers the usual fluffy-frothy legalese we have grown to expect from the professional environmental class bent on delay. Tisdale asserts harm to “hiking, family outings, recreation, wildlife and wildflower viewing, sightseeing, photography, star gazing, and quiet meditation.” According to his website, Tisdale’s attorney, Mr. Volker, is a veteran of the Sierra Club and inured to this environmental minuet.

By contrast, across the Pacific, the Chinese are now so far ahead of the United States in large-scale deployment of wind and solar photovoltaic for electricity production that the contrast has tragi-comical proportions. Total U.S. solar PV deployment is about 7,000 MW. The Chinese deployed over 5,000 MW of solar PV just during 2012; by 2015 they plan to have 40,000 MW, and analysts project 100,000 MW by 2020. The Chinese are addressing global warming.

How can U.S. solar PV manufacturers survive, unable to adequately deploy and therefore sell sufficiently large amounts of their products? Large-scale solar PV is hamstrung in the United States, thus defeating the necessary economies of scale. Some companies are being purchased in bankruptcy by Chinese interests. Can you say U.S. jobs? Can anyone say “national security”?

Buoyed by recent political success, a message from Sierra Club announced that in Sacramento “the muscle-flexing season begins.” Really? The environmental community continues to seek increased political power, even as that power leads to perverse outcomes, delays, environmental harm, and a stagnant world of missed or stifled opportunities.

We need real solutions on the ground, not ill-considered quarter-measures and braggadocio steroidal political “muscle” hamstringing those who are trying to genuinely address global warming. Such interference is unacceptable from big coal, big oil or the Heartland Institute -- and from environmentalists.

When it comes to fighting global warming by timely deploying large-scale solar PV and wind projects, we need to focus on and support real solutions not unworkable fantasies; we need built assets producing real energy for our society, including for the poor, not uninformed, manipulative litigation and delays.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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