Most state governments have instituted renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which require energy producers in the state to use ever higher levels of renewable fuels as sources of energy over time. These standards are usually expressed as a minimum percent of all energy produced in the state. Who knew that RPS might create an ethical challenge for state governments? I will explain.
Currently, 30 states use either mandatory or voluntary RPS to encourage energy producers to invest in technology for using cleaner, renewable fuel sources for generating electricity, rather than investing in new technologies for clean burning of coal and oil. Furthermore, environmentalists are increasingly touting energy generated from fossil fuels as wholly unethical, going so far as to formally ask the Pope to condemn investing in fossil fuel burning energy companies as being sinful. Oh my!
Which makes me wonder: If public policy is designed by a democratic process, does that ensure a more efficient and ethical outcome, relative to the decentralized activity of individuals interacting in a free enterprise system? For example, is the state more efficient when picking the “winners” from among competing energy sources and technologies? Are our elected officials any better than individual consumers and investors at ultimately promoting “ethical” energy production in society?
An article by Gerome Corsi and another by Wayne Root each question whether the recent federal stand-off at Bundy Ranch, a fourth generation family cattle operation in Clark County, Nevada, was really about protecting a newly discovered, sensitive tortoise habitat on this section of federal grazing land, as the federal government has claimed. Regardless of whether one agrees or not with the federal government’s decision to rescind this rancher’s grazing rights, both authors strongly suspect that the BLM’s decision was truly about a certain powerful U.S. Senator from Nevada fighting to gain control ever these federal lands in Nevada for a number of newly proposed solar power plants.
Why? There were strict RPS to satisfy, and Mr. Harry Reid was just making sure that they would be. Indeed, in another article, Corsi notes that 15% of all energy produced in the state of Nevada must be produced by renewable fuels. This number is required to rise to 25% by 2025. These minimums are among the highest across all fifty states for any RPS.
Both authors wonder whether Mr. Reid’s pursuit of ever more renewable energy production trumps any ostensible concerns for habitat preservation. After all, if the tortoise habitat of this particular section of federal grazing land was far too sensitive to allow cattle to continue to grazing and stomping upon it (as they had been doing for 140 years), then why did the federal government suddenly send in loud helicopters and 200 armed officers speeding around in four wheel vehicles to crisscross and tear up the land — just to corral the rancher’s posse of supporters and his meandering cattle? Or maybe they just wanted the land cleared for new Chinese solar panels?
To add to my doubts about governmental ethics in this sad situation, both authors point out that not only does Mr. Reid have a strong political interests in developing these multiple projects to satisfy Nevada’s strict RPS, but his former senior advisor, Neil Kronze, was recently confirmed by the Senate as the new Director of the BLM… which manages the grazing leases on all federal lands.
Corsi further piles on more doubts when he reveals that a BLM document specifically points out how the Bundy Ranch cattle are grazing on lands that are ear-marked for the state’s regional energy mitigation strategy to develop solar energy. Corsi notes this report states that mitigation activities are “not durable with the presence of trespass cattle.” I guess that implies cattle herds and solar panels simply do not mix well. Further, Corsi thinks it is highly interesting that this report no longer appears on the BLM website, despite its being available on internet archive files.
So, I wonder: If the government lies about why it is refusing to renew a cattleman’s grazing rights to federal land, whose eviction was a direct response to artificially created scarcity of renewable energy resulting from strict Nevada RPS regulations, that are specially designed to favor one type of clean energy technology (and its jobs) in one industry over another, is this all ethical?
Perhaps we should consult the Pope…