Thursday, July 24, 2008

So Much Misinformation, So Little Time

Much to my chagrin, Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy seems to be falling out of favor in modern America. It’s terribly unfortunate as Jeffersonian philosophy offers much. For example, we all know that Jefferson enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” in the national conscience. Jefferson said more about happiness though, take for instance; “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

His wisdom doesn’t end there. Wrap your head around this Jeffersonian insight; “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Unfortunately, with the commission election and the decision concerning the industrial wind development right around the corner, it seems most of what is printed regarding the two, particularly as they relate to each other, makes it seem Jefferson just formed his opinion recently.

Opinions are defended with information (though often not formed with it). Unfortunately, when the issue is as politically charged as the election and as controversial as the proposed wind development just outside of Hays, this information becomes twisted, sometimes violently so.

Though it is quite likely many people have taken Jefferson’s advice already (at least on this issue), for those of you still reading, I urge you to check out everything I say and look up the information I discuss from various sources , those reportedly neutral and those from both sides.

Let’s begin by pointing out that it probably won’t matter what the commission decides. There have been so many problems with this process that the application will undoubtedly end up in district (and possibly appeals) court. As a result, this process will most likely be repeated yet again in a year or so. As such, whatever is ultimately decided will be decided by the commission in place after the election. Speaking of which, now you know why the commission election is so political and so contested (not to mention why some opinions pieces are so venomous).

I get why it is tempting to distort the facts or only present one side of them. Some have stuff to lose while others have things to gain. Take T. Boone Pickens for example. He’s “been an oil man his entire life”, until he found wind. Why the sudden burst of what appears to be environmentalism? I don’t know Pickens, but I do know this; oil companies such as Exxon boast a profit margin of approximately 8%. Most estimates place his potential profit margin in industrial wind at or above 25%. It comes as no surprise, that being a good capitalist, Pickens wants in on wind.

Why then does his campaign sound so political? That’s easy: without the government subsidies and tax breaks, industrial wind couldn’t make money at all, let alone a 25% profit. Makes me think he’s not so much concerned about transfers of wealth so long as the wealth transfers to his account. Without our money (the government) transferring to his account, wind isn’t profitable, and without the profit he won’t build, so he’s depending on us to lobby the government. Sound familiar?

I personally don’t get why people are so down on oil anyway. Oil built this country and more specifically, oil built Ellis County. Ever wonder what Ellis County taxes would be without oil? Taxes on oil are responsible for a huge portion of the county’s revenue.

Let’s do a little comparison. If it is built, the proposed wind development will (hopefully) voluntarily pay $600,000 per year in lieu of actual taxes. If that same capital investment were in oil, that figure would be more on the order of $12,000,000 and that wouldn’t be subject to the companies’ “generosity”. I’m all in favor of alternative energy and finding renewable alternatives to exhaustible energy sources, but I’m not in favor of just any alternative. If you really wanted to eliminate the country’s dependence on foreign oil, wind is not the answer (an infinitesimally small percentage of electricity is produced by oil). If however, you are willing to do just about anything, I suggest replacing all motorized vehicles with horses. Unlike wind, this would actually work, but my guess is most of us would not support such a move, and as such, you are also on to my point that doing anything is not what we need.

Even if I grant you that wind is the answer, not only for the nation and the state and for Ellis County (all different questions), I still don’t understand the commissioners’ insistence on this particular project. Many people have posited that there is something happening behind the scenes here in Ellis County, much the same way that there is clearly something happening behind the scenes of Pickens’ new found support for wind energy. Again, I can’t say for certain what is happening, but let’s take a look at what is known.

There are four wind developments on the table for Ellis County. Most all players involved recognize that without additional transmission lines, only one project can currently be built. Everyone also acknowledges that the one currently under consideration is by far the most controversial and most contested. Given that only one can be built for sure why do two of our commissioners insist on unconditionally supporting the one project that is tearing our county apart? For that matter, why does a company claiming to be such “good neighbors” insist on pushing though the only one of their three projects that will leave division and hard feelings in the community that will last for generations? Why would either of them risk harming the growth and lifeblood of Ellis County by placing the one project so close to Hays?

Let me leave you with a final Jefferson quote. “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Though Jefferson was at times quite frustrated with the press, he was rightly more wary of a government that isn’t open, transparent or responsive to the people. As a fan of Jeffersonian political philosophy, I also share his belief in the power of “We the people”. As such, I am optimistic that the people of Ellis County will become informed, utilize common sense and hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

I urge you to find out what is happening in local government, not just with industrial wind, but with the budget, the rule of law and adherence to regulations, the county building proposal and other county issues. Talk to the candidates. Study their positions and past record. Support a candidate that offers common sense solutions, vision and leadership in government, not lingering questions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Something to Hide?

(submitted to HDN July 16, 2008)

The recent decision of our County Commission to change their mind on requiring financial disclosures of appointed officials is surprising enough, but their reasons for doing so are mind-boggling. Board members threatened to resign if forced to disclose their financial interests.

Should we not view resistance to public disclosure as evidence of guilt? Are these not people whose resignations we should encourage, if not demand? As Commissioner Henman pointed out, the requirement was adopted specifically to address apparent conflicts of interest on the Planning Commission, and these are obviously the people opposing the requirement. When Dick Klaus says "You get people…on there for years and know a lot about the way (the board) works, you'd hate to lose them" he speaks for himself, not the community. Having personally witnessed 'how the board works' I would say these are specifically the people we need to lose – those that have been there so long they think they can do what they want without obeying their own rules or being held accountable for their actions. If they can't reveal their financial interests, they obviously have something to hide. Throw them out.

Dale Wing's assessment that financial disclosure will make for "an extremely difficult time in re-appointing members of the planning commission" is completely false. Many qualified people volunteered to serve on the board in June and were passed over so that Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel could re-appoint their pro-wind cronies – and now they have given these same people special permission to keep secret their leasing agreements with Iberdrola. How cozy.

The County Commission essentially thumbs its nose at state law by de-coupling the oath of office from financial disclosure. How can anyone objectively represent a community's interests in a development of this magnitude when they stand to gain financially from the developer's success? I have no appointed or elected responsibility and yet, as an employee of the state, I am required to make a conflict of interest disclosure annually – in case I might be conducting state research designed to benefit some company in which I hold a substantial interest. Why should people charged with drafting regulations to protect our community be let off the hook for public disclosure precisely when they are in a position to sell us all down the river for their own financial gain?

The obvious answer is they should not. This decision is an affront to open government and an insult to the citizens of Ellis County. And it is further evidence of the complicity of these commissioners in the corruption of county-wide zoning. As if we needed any.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Turbines can alter local weather

(submitted to HDN July 12, 2008)

There are many serious implications of wind energy development when it is close to rural or urban residences and we can be sure that those anxious to jump on the wind energy bandwagon haven’t considered more than a fraction of them.

We have heard about the problems with continuous noise penetrating people’s houses up to a mile away and causing chronic illness. We have heard about the shadow flicker and strobing that can induce seizures and declining property values as people flee formerly peaceful rural environments to escape this large-scale industrialization. We have heard about construction impacts and possible damage to water tables, soil profiles and natural vegetation, not to mention bird and bat kills and wildlife being driven away. But it doesn’t end there.

A recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres by Princeton scientists used computer modeling to simulate the effects of a large array of wind turbines (100 of them each 325 feet high and spaced 2/3 of a mile apart) in a Great Plains environment. Parameters were set to mimic wind speeds and weather patterns typical of Oklahoma. The objective was to identify possible impacts on local climatic conditions.

The study found that large arrays of wind turbines actually raise nighttime surface temperatures in summer. Cool air typically pools close to the ground at night, leaving hot air to circulate at higher levels. Turbines disturb this thermal stratification and encourage the mixing of the hot air higher up with the cooler air near the ground, thus raising surface temperatures and eliminating the cool air effect at night that is such a welcome respite during hot summer weather.

This important result adds to other studies in Europe that reveal local changes in climate due to large arrays of wind turbines. In the coastal plain of Denmark, moisture arrives as very low-lying cloud and fog cover that either condenses out onto vegetation or falls as gentle drizzle. The turbulence caused by large arrays of wind turbines diminishes this effect and has actually reduced soil moisture in the region, causing farmers to lobby the government to shut down turbines during spring months so that crops can receive adequate moisture during critical growth stages.

There are many, many implications to consider before we rush ahead blindly with a massive industrialization of this county from which there will be no turning back. With all due respect, few of our elected officials are qualified to evaluate the full impact of these projects on our community - beyond the shortsighted economic promises made by the developer. This would require careful, balanced analysis by a team of unbiased, independent experts. I find it ironic that we are supposed to accept turbines in the interest of diminishing global warming (a contention that is highly doubtful) in the face of real evidence to suggest we risk raising our temperature locally and possibly diminishing our rainfall.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stacking the Deck

Once again, Commissioners Pfannenstiel and Berens have revealed their cronyism with wind farm profiteers by appointing and re-appointing Planning Commission members who are either known supporters of wind energy, or have familial ties to land leased for wind turbines. The public needs to know that a large number of other people volunteered for these positions – many of them educated citizens genuinely concerned for their community – not people simply trying to jump on the wind bandwagon for personal profit. None of these people, who might have provided more balance on the Planning Commission, people whom the commissioners may have assumed to be neutral or mildly opposed to the development in its present form, were allowed the opportunity to serve.

These commissioners clearly have no desire for a balance of opinion to be represented on the Planning Commission – they appear determined to railroad this project through over the dead bodies of any dissenters. The rumors of kickbacks and payoffs to these commissioners by wind interests are only rumors and cannot be substantiated. However, the balance of circumstantial evidence indicative of their corruption is becoming increasingly ponderous with every passing week they remain in office.

It does not matter much that Planning Commission members will now be asked to take an oath of office. It is merely one more confirmation that our appointed officials have not been following their own rules and regulations to date. Much damage has been done previous board members and doubtless many of those still present will make their conflicts public, but blithely continue with business as usual. Similarly, our two star commissioners will continue to ignore public concerns, make arbitrary decisions that benefit their friends and families, and mismanage the county’s resources and tax revenue until they are removed from office. The debacle of the Hadley Building deal should be evidence enough of their poor judgment and incompetence. Both Berens and Pfannenstiel have had multiple terms in office and a bounty of opportunities to benefit this community – clealy without doing so.

Whether you are Republican or Democrat, it is difficult to deny that political change is needed in Ellis County – not simply to restore responsible government, but to prevent the whole county and its future from being sold down the river on a ‘good faith agreement’ with a foreign company. I urge everyone to become involved in supporting alternative candidates for County Commission this fall. We must extinguish the apathy that has allowed corruption and cronyism to permeate local government and replace it with increased awareness and vigilance of its operations. And we must take full advantage of the only legal means to restore honest, responsible representation. We must support and campaign for deserving candidates and make it a personal priority to vote for change in November.

J.P. Michaud
1189 180th Ave.