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{UPDATE: NYS Senate passes Green Amendment to the State Constitution. It includes, “In practice, this amendment will require government to consider the environment and its citizens’ relationship to it in all decision making. It also creates a powerful tool for combating environmental racism and rebalancing the inequities communities of color and low-income communities face from disproportionate exposure to pollution and other environment-harming practices.”}

One of the challenges facing environmental policymakers is that land prices adjust in response to changes in the amenity value of property, changes in the safety of property and the changes in any other hedonic characteristic of property. Policy makers CANNOT control this any more than they can control the climate. This fact raises environmental justice issues on its own. For example, if there are places in states that are dirtier, have dirtier water, have dirtier air, have noisier air, have less outdoor amenities, and so on, all else equal the demand for those places will be lower and therefore the price of land and other real estate in those places will be lower. These low prices would be attractive to individuals who place a higher marginal value on the next dollar, and for the time being that tends to be lower income Americans, a disproportionate share of whom are black.

There is another direction to this challenge too. If there are already real estate locations where costs are lower, for whatever reason, regardless of environmental amenities, then those low-cost places will be attractive sites for power generation, manufacturing, high-truck traffic, routing of roads and rail, disposal, and more. In this case, we would again notice – despite this not being anyone’s intention – is that low-income black communities may find themselves in disproportionately poorer environmental conditions.

One economic insight here, one that will certainly not receive good-faith airtime in many corners, is that people who live here are no better or worse off with the environment being cleaner or dirtier. We are of course leaving out a supply-side innovation part of that story.

Be that as it may, most of the articles you will find on “environmental justice” will tend to focus on how environmental policy and industrial policy and “free market economic activity” has a disparate impact on black communities. What you are sure to find less of is a focus more broadly on environmental justice concerns as it pertains to all lower income Americans or Americans who tend to be left in the back of the room while crony and political wheeling and dealing take place.

Take the case of Green New Deals and Wind Power. Wind is already famous for being a “not in my back yard” technology. The Cape Wind fiasco (the aristocratic Kennedy’s and their pals were successful in preventing it) is just the tip of the iceburg on it. We don’t see Green New Deal advocates asking to put windmills in New York Harbor, in Central Park, in the Golden Gate, in Marin County, and so on. Some urban and wealthy areas are surely good places to site windmills particularly since it would reduce the need for long-stretches of high voltage transmission lines. But of course there is always a “but.” You will never see a windmill close to these areas. And a corollary to that is that low-income black communities who live on the fringes of these cities or in the hearts of them, would tend to not be subject to wind. So we have a positive externality from “snooty white people” flowing into less fortunate communities.

Of course, we do not see the blue-blooded aristocrats protesting all wind, just the wind near their leafy urban college campuses and high-tech office buildings, plugged in Starbucks, and Lululemons. So where else do we see cheap wind sites? Out in rural America, home of the “deplorables” … the deplorables need no description, clinging to their bibles and guns and faded Trump stickers. Do you think they appreciate the impact that wind has on their land values, at least for the land that is near wind but not lucky enough to be “bribed” by the wind companies to have the mills sited on their land? Do you think we have activists saying how it is unconscionable that the almighty dollar is being used to “force” poor deplorables to endure the siting of windmills near them? Contrast that of course to the uproar there would be if a waste management company tried to bribe residents of an inner city to allow a large trash dump next to their homes. Of course, it is well understood that not only does the production of windmills require the use of materials that can be sources from some pretty unsavory sources (cobalt for necessary battery backup and storage perhaps coming from child labor, the rare earth mines for the materials needed in the nacelles leaving massive scars of damage in poor communities in Asia and elsewhere, etc.), but that they require the destruction of massive amounts of trees, require massive amounts of concrete for their supports, massive amounts of wiring to send their power from where the wind is to where it is needed, they require the turning our heads away from the impact on migrating insect populations, they require turning our heads away from the impact they have on important raptors (yes cats kill billions of birds, but cats are not eating raptor eggs or babies), they require turning our heads away from the thousands and thousands of documented cases of sleeplessness, distraction, and more from the actual presence of the windmills. Of course, all power has its drawbacks and this is not meant to say that wind is any worse than other power sources. This is all an entree to the fact that these wind installations are disproportionately impacting poor “deplorable” families.

Here is a bit:

In lowa, a state that gets about a third of its electricity from wind, a three-turbine wind project being pushed by a company called Optimum Renewables was rejected by three different counties Fayette, Buchanan, and Black Hawk. In 2015, the Black Hawk County Board of Adjustment rejected the project after more than one hundred local residents expressed concerns.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated that the state be obtaining 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.1 But three upstate counties–Erie, Orleans, and Niagara as well as the towns of Yates and Somerset, have all been fighting a proposed 200-megawatt project called Lighthouse Wind, which aims to put dozens of turbines on the shores of Lake Ontario.” The same developer pushing Lighthouse Wind, Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy, also faced fierce resistance on a project in New York that aimed to put 109 megawatts of wind capacity on Galloo Island, a small island that sits off the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.” The project was opposed by the nearby town of Hen derson for years, and, in the documents it filed with the state, Apex neglected to report that bald eagles have been nesting on Galloo Island. That omission caused an uproar, and in early 2019 Apex withdrew its application for the Galloo project. 15 In April 2019, Apex announced it was also suspending work on the Lighthouse Wind project.
The media’s paltry coverage of the backlash against the wind industry is particularly obvious when looking at the Lighthouse Wind project. Even though the fight over the project raged for more than three years, and it was the highest-profile wind-energy project in New York, by mid-2019 the New York Times had not published a single story about the controversy.
– Robert Bryce, A Question of Power

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