The phrase “not in my backyard” was invented by the powerful to ridicule local opposition to something that a deep-pocket entity wanted to build. The logic is that this thing has to be built somewhere, near some people, but “people get emotional” and do not want it near them. We all use the products of these polluting factories, and we might as well be honest, take responsibility for it, and be willing to live near them. So they say.
Obviously, no one wants to be living near a nuclear waste dump, a smelly factory, or high voltage power lines and other nasty outcomes of industrial life as we know it. But the issue is more complex than they make it to be.
First of all, they put the focus on personal responsibility (“it is you who should accept it and live near it”) rather than systemic patterns and policies (lack of proper safeguards, cheapened resources, weak labor and pollution laws, etc.), originating from outside the local community, that perpetuate the problem.
No doubt, we bear some responsibility as users. But just because we use electricity, it does not mean that the power plant must be a polluting one. Just because you eat ham does not mean you should live near, or put up with, manure spills from poorly managed hog lots! There are many ways of generating electricity, some much less polluting than others.
When lack of leadership and the consequent absence of national, state and local energy policies have led to more and more polluting power plants, does that mean we have to live near one? Of course not, and that is why “not in my backyard” is OK. Local opposition is the only recourse many of us have.
For the proposed coal-burning power plant, there is even another more profound reason for not in my backyard. In 2001, Iowa state legislators passed a law that allowed “merchant power plants” to come to Iowa. These plants come here to burn coal and sell the power to out of state locations.
In the process, the legislators weakened the public review and environmental requirements, and gutted any form of local control from cities and counties in requiring any additional measures! (Just as they did for hog lots, counties have basically no say.)
Prior to 2001, the applicants had to prove that there was a local need for more electricity, but in 2001, the state of Iowa declared open season on Iowa’s clean air.
When our rights as citizens to participate in decisions that affect our future are taken away, when state legislators are not protecting Iowans’ well-being, we have no choice but to say not in my backyard.
As my attorney friend, Carrie La Seur, puts it “The community has the power to affect the outcome of this plant proposal. We are not at the mercy of LS Power, DNR or anyone else, if people are vocal about what they want.” I second that.
The proposed coal-burning plant, while near Waterloo, has implications for all residents of Eastern Iowa. In the next few columns, I will explore many key questions surrounding the proposed power plant:
- What about mercury?
- Who exactly is the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and why are they chasing smoke stacks?
- Why is that polluting plants are never proposed near a well-to-do neighborhood?
- Why so much coal burning?
- Does coal burning warm the globe? You bet.
- What about the existing coal burning plants?
- Conservation & efficiency: the real solutions.
- Wind: local & renewable
I believe that public conversations about our energy situation are much needed. I hope I can contribute positively to the conversation.
Dr. Kamyar Enshayan, a mechanical engineer, works at UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. He can be reached at 319-273-7575 or Kamyar.firstname.lastname@example.org.
His column appears on a weekly basis in the Cedar Falls Times and several other small town papers in our region.