- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The environmentalists have had a long run as one of liberalisms most successful fronts, battling triumphantly for an Edenic vision of America against the evil forces of corporate capitalism that (allegedly) wanted to pollute it, or even simply destroy it, in the name of profits. But there are signs the environmental lobby may have overplayed its hand, at least in one important category, and that it may shortly start losing some of its hitherto dependable popularity.
Let me begin by distinguishing the environmental lobbyists I am talking about from the many Americans who have a basic instinctive sympathy for such indisputable goods as clean water, clean air, and the myriad furry and feathery things with which we share the Earth. Such people are, inevitably, easy prey for the big organizations that run the environmentalist show, call the shots, and raise huge sums of money for causes that sound much better than they really are. But it is important to distinguish the two categories nevertheless, and to stress I am talking only about the hard-bitten professionals and their nuttier followers who spend years living in the tops of allegedly endangered trees.
For decades, one of the standard targets of what Rush Limbaugh calls "the environmentalist wackos" has been any utility that dared to propose building an electric power plant. Nuclear power was, of course, completely out of the question, on the theory that one could explode at any moment and kill hundreds of thousands of people by radiation poisoning. As it happens, this is one of those rare things that simply cannot physically occur, but the fear of a nuclear holocaust or, worse yet, of a stealthy death by invisible rays has stopped the American nuclear power industry in its tracks. (France and Japan, to take only two examples, are smarter, deriving the bulk of their electric power from this clean and remarkably safe source.)
But oil and coal the dependable old "fossil fuels" are also untouchable because of the pollutants they supposedly belch into the atmosphere. As for hydroelectric dams, you can depend on it that any patch of ground that will be flooded by the construction of one will turn out to be the last known habitat of some species of animal, bird, or (far more often) insect you have never heard of before but which turns out to be a precious gem in the diadem of creation.
That leaves natural gas, which is already stretched to capacity under existing regulations (and requires, in any case, transportation through pipelines allegedly intolerable to wildlife), or wind or solar power, neither of which is either economical enough or capable of generating enough energy to justify relying on it.
You have probably long since guessed where this is heading. The state of California, whose citizens are sensitive to every vibration in the great web of life, hasnt allowed the building of a single new power plant in more than 10 years while its population has been skyrocketing, and new industries (in Silicon Valley and elsewhere) have come on line, demanding more and more electric power. About two months ago, the irresistible force of this growing demand for power finally smacked into the immovable object of Californias hostility to power plants, and the good people of California were treated to the novel experience of "rolling blackouts," as one region of the state after another was temporarily deprived of electricity. What is more, the situation is predictably going to get far worse this summer, when air conditioners become essential to make huge sections of the state livable.
Californias politicians, whose only firm policy has been to keep energy costs low for consumers (i.e. voters), have panicked, and are paying huge sums to buy electricity out-of-state. That it will have to be paid for by either the consumers (heaven forbid) or the taxpayers is a grim fact that, when it dawns on the voters, will probably end the presidential ambitions of the Democratic governor, Gray Davis.
And let us hope that it will also end Californians long, unrequited love affair with blind environmentalism. It takes years to build a power plant of any kind, so they will have plenty of time, during the next eight or 10 steamy summers, to sit in the dark, when their turn comes, reading their electricity bill (or their tax bill) by candlelight and deciding whether they can bear the thought of depriving the red-striped pickleworm of its favorite habitat, if thats what a new dam would require. My guess is that they will decide to sacrifice the pickleworm and a lot of loud-mouthed "environmentalists" too.

William Rusher is a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.

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