It was an image from Neil Young’s iconic song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” On Aug. 23, the 1970s-era rocker was the old man “by the side of the road, with the lorries rolling by.” The $1 million LincVolt, a 1959 Lincoln Continental that Mr. Young had converted to a biomass-powered hybrid, broke down near Donner Pass in California.
Ironically, Mr. Young was en route to an environmental festival in Canada to celebrate alternative-energy sources and to oppose tar sands and oil and gas development. Fortunately, he was rescued by state troopers so he could get to his next gig, a photo-op in Washington with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to push for more federal energy mandates. On Saturday, Mr. Young will be in upstate New York to join with fellow songsters Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews to oppose hydraulic fracturing, which Mr. Nelson labels, “bad for the land, bad for the farmers, bad for the soil. It’s just all-around a bad idea.” There is no word yet if actors Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon and Ethan Hawke or the bete noire of Beatles fans, Yoko Ono, and son Sean Lennon — all notorious anti-fracking nuts — will be there, but one thing is for sure: The media will cover the event.
What the media will not cover is the two mutually exclusive ideas that appear to be rattling around in their heads. After all, the reported mission of the Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is “to keep family farmers on the land,” and, in Mr. Nelson’s words, “to encourage more young farmers to get back on the land.” That is exactly what a lot of young farmers, raised on land that has been in their families for five and six generations, want desperately to do. However, with young and growing families and with the cost of running a farm, they are not able to do so. Tragically — and for them, it is a tragedy — they view their parents as the last generation of farmers.
Their difficulties have increased recently as a result of the discovery of natural gas in shale deposits beneath those farms, but not in the way Willie and the boys might portray. The gas has made their farms more valuable and, therefore, says the county tax assessor, subject to higher taxes. Because of people like Mr. Young, Mr. Ruffalo and Ms. Ono, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has balked at allowing farmers to extract the gas.
The farmers are battling against what one reporter called a team of “deep-pocketed environmental groups, New York City lawyers, organic farmers, doctors, paid professional activists and high-profile celebrities.” It is particularly painful for the New York farmers, knowing what is taking place just across the state line in Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State, development of Marcellus Shale, which also underlies New York, is in full swing, and has been for a few years. Not surprisingly, the economy is booming there — and not just for those in the “oil patch” — as the rising tide that is natural-gas development lifts everyone’s boat. Out on the farms, young families are returning to the land, where their parents have paid off back taxes, repaired or replaced worn out or outdated equipment, and bought a new pickup or two. Meanwhile, the young people themselves, thanks to the booming economy, have paid off their college loans and felt the freedom to start families in earnest. There are naysayers, doom-and-gloom merchants and Chicken Littles, of course, but they are few and far between, and their predictions of the woes to befall Pennsylvanians owing to fracking have been disproved.
When the Farm Aid concert in Saratoga Springs is over, Mr. Young and the other rich and famous people will take luxurious limousines to the airport in Albany and jet off to various exotic locations. When Mr. Young’s hybrid automobile breaks down or his fancy alternative-energy supply fails, he can rely on the kindness of strangers passing by, slip back onto the coal- and gas-fired grid, or dip into his millions in the bank. But for the farmers, their families and their communities in upstate New York, he has only encouraging words: “Don’t let it bring you down, it’s only castles burning, find someone who’s turning, and you will come around.” Thanks, Neil; that’s real helpful.
William Perry Pendley is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver and author of “Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today” (Regnery, 2013).