The King of NIMBYism

By Keith Kloor | July 19, 2011 9:47 am

In 2005, after Robert Kennedy Jr. published an op-ed in The New York Times opposing an offshore wind energy project in Nantucket Sound, environmentalists were plenty pissed. Since then, RFKJr has offered numerous arguments against Cape Wind, but none of them has stuck.

I thought he had reached a hypocritical apex a few years ago when he scolded Senator Dianne Feinsten for quashing solar development in California’s Mojave desert. But Kennedy scaled new heights with his op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. That piece seemed to cross some sort of rubicon even with Climate Progress (but not Joe Romm, who has never taken him to task), which ran this guest post last night, slamming Kennedy:

It is simply impossible to portray Kennedy’s latest salvo in the ongoing battle over Cape Wind as anything less than utter hypocrisy. Kennedy suggests that the project, which has undergone more than a decade of environmental and economic review, could be supplanted by “renewable” power from Canadian hydroelectricity ““ the same alternative that has been proposed to replace Vermont Yankee’s nuclear energy. And yet in 2004 as a senior attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council, Kennedy penned a piece titled “Hydro is Breaking Our Hearts.” His article lamented that hydro development in Canada had “turned pristine rivers into power corridors, ancient lakes into holding tanks, and a sacred homeland into an industrial complex.”

Yet Canadian hydropower is precisely the solution he proposes to replace Cape Wind’s green electrons. Apparently his own Hyannisport sacred homeland is somehow “¦ more sacred?

Now I’m not someone who thinks it’s clear sailing for wind power. As this recent piece in Climate Central and this post by Mark Lynas demonstrate, there are serious issues and considerable blowback that still need to be addressed in numerous places. But Cape Wind is not one of them. It is perhaps the most vetted wind project on the planet. Opposition to it today boils down to plain old NIMBYism.

Last year, David Roberts of Grist, who often writes passionately about climate change, did an interview with Kennedy, but avoided asking him about his relentless anti-Cape Wind stand. Here was the final soft ball question and Kennedy’s answer, which included cartoonish rhetoric about “evil-doers,”  a term George Bush Jr. was fond of using, too.

Q. What are you spending your time on now?

A. I’m doing a lot of green-tech businesses. I’ve employed all the tools of advocacy during the past quarter-century; Martin Luther King said the tools of advocacy are agitation, legislation, litigation, and education. I would add to that innovation, which may turn out to be one of the most powerful tools of advocacy. We have an opportunity now, using new technologies, to displace the evildoers, the oil industry and the coal industry, and turn this country back into a democracy.

Kennedy neglected to add that he was also employing all the tools of NIMBYism to thwart a massive clean energy project that would do its part to help reduce greenhouse gases.

  • thingsbreak

    Anti-vaxx nutter to boot. Glad to see him getting called out on his BS.

  • NewYorkJ

    Equally hypocritical are pro-fossil fuel forces (Lynas is not one of them) feigning concern over wind power’s impact on wildlife, as fossil fuels kill an order of magnitude more birds per unit of energy consumed than wind power.

    Lynas is pro-nuclear, however.  It’s worth noting that nuclear energy is on par with wind power on bird deaths per unit of energy, with an estimated 327,000 killed in 2006.  To put it all in some context, 500 million are killed by house cats each year, with greater numbers killed by collisions with buildings, but it doesn’t  preclude the need to make forms of energy safer for wildlife. 

    Altamount Pass, which has been one of the worst areas for birds of prey, recently settled with Audubon to revamp their wind farm and pay for wildlife restoration.  If only fossil fuels faced such environmental scrutiny.

  • Tom Fuller

    Wow, New York J getting statistics on bird deaths by caticide from Bjorn Lomborg. Who’da thunk it?

  • nutso fasst

    Comparison of bird deaths from turbine blades and feline predation is totally irrelevant, even if 500 million cat kills is remotely accurate (where’d that number come from, computer models?). Turbine blades are killing raptors, not the common, fast-breeding bird species eaten by cats. Demise of raptor populations was one reason for banning DDT, remember? Populations of raptors and crop-eating rodents tend to be inversely proportional.

  • harrywr2

    The last estimates I saw for Cape Wind were that the wholesale price of the electricity would be 24 cents/KWh.
    Hydro-quebec gets an average of 5.2 cents/KWh.
    Even a Kennedy can recognize that there is a limit to how much of ‘others peoples money’ you can spend before a lynch  mob forms.



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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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