Editor, Daily Nexus:
Although I can definitely see where Justin Ruhge is coming from (Daily Nexus, “Environmentalists Hinder Resolution of Power Crisis,” March 7) and on many points I agree, I’d have to say that by completely ignoring all environmental factors, he is ultimately defeating his own cause.
His position seems to mainly be that any environmental consideration is superfluous to the energy debate. Indeed, it seems that he feels that any environmental considerations taken while planning for power will actually wind up costing more money, and I propose that the reality is just the opposite.
I agree that in California the environmental regulations do add a lot of cost to developing new power sources and discourage private industry development. What you have to realize though, is that by taking environmental considerations into account from the start, you may wind up saving yourself a lot of money down the road.
Take hydroelectric power for instance. It is a very efficient way to get energy and completely renewable, so we will not run out of within a few hundred years (as is the case with fossil fuels). It doesn’t generate any pollution directly, however there is a very large (and growing) body of evidence that hydroelectric plants generate a large amount of carbon dioxide because of decomposing organic matter that gets trapped behind the dams. Dams also impede water-based commerce. This isn’t a problem on the Colorado River, but in the Pacific Northwest barge traffic is significantly impeded. Additionally, there has been significant pressure from the fishing industry to remove the dams because they deplete the fish stock and threaten fishermen’s livelihood. To top it all off, like Ruhge points out in the case of wind and solar, hydroelectric power is somewhat unreliable. This year the northwest has gotten far less rainfall than normal and the power output from its system of dams (on which it is heavily dependent) is much lower than they would like.
I also agree with Ruhge that nuclear plants are, for the most part, very safe and very efficient. Although, contrary to Ruhge’s statement there has been more than one nuclear plant accident; two examples are Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. But the problems with nuclear are twofold. First, nuclear accidents tend to be much more severe than other energy related accidents. Second, there is disposal. Most communities around the U.S. take the NIMBY approach to nuclear waste, but it’s got to go somewhere, and if it isn’t stored safely and securely there will be a large (financial as well as environmental) cost to pay.
The bottom line is that for every power choice you have environmental costs, and although you have to have energy plants, it is foolhardy not to consider the environmental impact. Not just because a rare species might be pushed to extinction, but also because the wrong environmental decisions are going to cost a lot, both financially and socially, down the road.
Who pays the cost of cleanup for a nuclear accident? Who pays the cost for dam removal? Who pays for adding more pollution inhibitors to over-polluting power plants, and who pays for cleaning up the damage already done? Who pays for all of the lost jobs when the environment is so damaged that people can no longer responsibly use our natural resources?
Ultimately it will be us, as citizens and taxpayers. Personally, I would rather pay a little more up front than a whole lot down the road, or have my children or grandchildren pay for the mistakes of my generation.