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Progressive NIMBYism is One of the Biggest Obstacles to Clean Energy

Progressives often champion the idea of green energy, but recent trends appear to show that while the idea of it is popular in progressive circles, the actual implementation of green energy is met with pushback. Why would the same people who champion green initiatives challenge their implementation?  A closer look reveals a classic case of NIMBYism. NIMBY stands for “Not In My Backyard” and is used to describe someone who objects to a project in their own locale, but they have no objections to projects occurring elsewhere.

>>>READ: Finland Bets on Nuclear Energy and The US Should Do the Same

AMHERST, M.A. – For example, Amherst, Massachusetts, a town that President Biden carried with 90.7% of the vote in 2020, attempted to put a moratorium on the books to prevent future solar projects in their town. The local chapter of the Sunrise Movement supported this effort citing concerns over deforestation that could come from future solar projects. While deforestation is a legitimate concern, it must be balanced with the need for carbon neutral energy. Sunrise also opposes nuclear energy which takes up the least amount of space per-megawatt produced. Solar on the other hand takes up about 80 times as much space as the average nuclear power plant and a wind plant takes up twice as much space as solar.

By opposing solar projects in their own town and nuclear energy entirely, Sunrise is endorsing the sources of energy that are already in place. According to the Town of Amherst, the majority of energy in the town comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas).

The residents of Amherst claim to largely support climate action and the town itself even has a Climate Action Adaptation and Resilience Plan. While fossil fuels would still be needed as an intermittency energy source, the solar project proposed by W.D. Cowls Inc. would lessen Amherst’s overall carbon footprint. Furthermore, efforts by the Sunrise Movement have also prevented future solar projects in the area from being completed.

BUCHANAN, N.Y. -Actor Mark Ruffalo and other activists worked to shut down the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Their movement was successful and in 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the plant would be shut down, calling it a “victory for climate action”. New York City still needed the power that would be lost, so the carbon neutral nuclear energy was entirely replaced by fossil fuels and emissions in New York state soared.

 Ruffalo himself lives in a town north of the power plant and many of the supporters of this movement are those that live near the plant as well. Their concerns seem to have less to do with the environment and more to do with the proximity of the power plant to their own homes, even if closing the plant means increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Concerns about matters such as the water intake’s impact on fish or an oil leak that previously occurred at the plant, are legitimate and those are areas that should be improved, but fixing these environmental issues rather than scrapping the entire project would have been more beneficial to New York’s environment and its energy security.

OVERTON, N.V. – Arevia Power, a California-based company, recently proposed a solar power plant outside of Las Vegas called The Battle Born Solar Project. Located on a rock formation named Mormon Mesa, this would have been the nation’s largest solar power plant. A local group calling themselves “Save Our Mesa” formed in opposition of this project. Save Our Mesa initially cited land conservation concerns, but went on to argue it would “be an eyesore and could curtail the area’s popular recreational activities — biking, ATVs and skydiving.” The concerns seemed to have less to do with conservation, the original complaint, and more to do with aesthetics and tourism money. The project would have replaced fossil fuels and powered 500,000 homes in the Las Vegas area. Arevia Power eventually withdrew their project in response to the protests. NIMBYism again prevented the expansion of carbon neutral energy.

Democrats often talk about sustainable energy and Republicans often talk about energy independence. A move toward sustainable energy should be a chance for bipartisan work as clean energy and energy independence are not mutually exclusive. Companies who put forward plans for clean energy, however, often never get those projects off the ground due to growing NIMBYism and burdensome regulations. Unless public opinion can be changed to match the environmental values progressives claim to hold, NIMBYism will continue to be an obstacle in the fight against climate change.

Clark Strawser is a contributor to C3 and Adjunct Professor with the Helm’s School of Government at Liberty University. Follow him on Twitter @ClarkStrawser.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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