Thursday, February 10, 2022

Nimbyism: The Consequence of Environmental Regulations

Dense development is beneficial for the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes this, in theory, and developed guidelines for advancing “infill development.” Oftentimes, its own regulations get in the way by requiring strict mitigation and banning construction near bodies of water on somewhat dubious premises.

Other environmental agencies at the state and local levels also stop development, having been captured by Nimbys for whom “green” is a lifestyle brand, not a coherent ecological worldview.

For a lesson in EPA contradiction, take the 12,000-unit residential project that Cargill has wanted to build for years in Redwood City, a Silicon Valley suburb. Under the Obama administration, the agency determined that the development, which would go on industrial salt-making land, would negatively impact the San Francisco Bay, despite opposite findings from the Army Corps of Engineers. Much of the dispute stems from whether or not the site is on wetlands; the developer contended that it was not, while regulators argued that it was. In 2018, the Trump administration worked to reverse the EPA’s regulatory stance, but last year, with Democrats back in office, the project was shut down for good following a major court ruling. This means that after a decade of regulatory back-and-forth, the EPA, working with local environmentalists, helped squash badly-needed housing in an area with some of America’s most expensive median home prices.

Water-related pollution is strictly regulated by the agency. As the EPA explains: “Runoff can pick up and deposit harmful pollutants like trash, chemicals, and dirt/sediment into streams, lakes, and groundwater. Construction sites, lawns, improperly stored hazardous wastes, and illegal dumping are all potential sources of stormwater pollutants.” For this reason, the agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System policy requires any development that creates a point source to obtain a permit.

Local runoff regulations can be even more onerous. In 2004, a group of developers in Spokane County, WA, brought challenges to a runoff ordinance they claimed was overbearing, as it would require them to eliminate all runoff caused by new construction. A related regulation forced developers to construct retention ponds. One area developer called for a case-by-case approach to drainage issues in response, rather than sweeping regulations that would obstruct multiple types of development. And all 50 states have their own stormwater standards, which come with varying degrees of severity.

A As I covered for Catalyst in 2020, the “Friends of the L.A. River” organization blocked a mixed-use development that would have placed 420 housing units along the Los Angeles River, because the group wanted wetlands along the river instead. This means people who would have lived in the project will likely instead live in sprawling developments that add to impervious surfaces.

California’s Environmental Quality Act law (CEQA) is notorious for this counter-intuitive advocacy. The law “requires that state and local agencies disclose and evaluate the significant environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts.”

Yet a 2015 analysis by the law firm Holland & Knight found that urban “infill” projects—meaning those that don’t require new construction on greenfields—were the most commonly targeted for CEQA lawsuits (80% of cases). The law had been used against everything from state-funded amenities, to local transit projects and senior housing. As a summary finds, “renewable energy is the most frequently challenged type of industrial/utility project, and housing (especially higher density housing) is the most frequently challenged type of private-sector project.”

Of course, not all environmental laws are as counterproductive as CEQA; and I don’t pretend, as an ecology layman, to know how courts should have ruled in all the above-mentioned cases. But public officials who delve into these “environment vs. development” issues must understand the role that regulatory capture plays in hijacking the conversation. Whether it’s a local, state, or federal agency that is tasked with enforcement, there is often immense pressure on these agencies from local activists who act in bad faith. As the Holland & Knight paper reiterated, the majority of CEQA lawsuits, for example, came from “associations…which have no prior track record of environmental advocacy.” Rather, it seems the goal is to abuse well-meaning environmental laws for Nimby purposes.


UK: Bring back fracking, says new Brexit minister

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was yesterday appointed as the Brexit opportunities minister, suggested that there should be a return to fracking to increase Britain’s energy independence.

However, the suggestion was rejected by the prime minister.

Fracking, a controversial method of extracting shale gas, was banned in 2019 amid concerns that it was causing earthquakes. Environmental groups have claimed it is incompatible with the government’s net zero target.

Johnson told the cabinet yesterday that he wants to “go for nuclear” and make it an integral part of building a greener Britain.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said that the government was looking at the “transition not extinction” of oil and gas.

The prime minister led a discussion of the UK energy security situation at the weekly meeting of the cabinet in Downing Street yesterday.

The meeting coincided with the oil giant BP announcing annual profits of £9.5 billion. However No 10 indicated that there was no planned shift in the government’s opposition to calls for a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies.

“There is obviously volatility in gas prices, you are seeing that reflected in profits,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said. “I am not going to comment on individual companies. Those that perform well pay more in taxes, including corporation tax.”

The spokesman added that the UK was investing in renewables to provide further security of supply, with important roles for nuclear and offshore wind, as the economy moved towards net zero.

“The oil and gas industry will continue to play a role as we make that transition. They are investing in clean technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen that we need to get to net zero,” he said. “We know that having an element of independence of oil and gas is important. Sourcing gas locally through the North Sea makes us less dependent on foreign imports.”


UK: We applaud Government for approving new oil and gas fields amid soaring energy bills -- says popular newspaper

THREE cheers if reality is dawning and sanity prevailing over Net Zero in the Cabinet.

Soaring energy bills should shortly sober up any remaining holdouts still drunk on utopian promises from Cop26.

Our energy future is in disarray. We are horribly exposed to the cost and stability of imports. We cannot power ourselves solely on wind, solar and our dwindling, dilapidated nuclear plants.

And demands by Labour and eco ­zealots to go further, faster on Net Zero are deranged.

So we applaud the Government for going ahead with approving new North Sea oil and gas fields.

But we will need a lot more gas in the decades before we finally eliminate emissions. So why stop there? Fracking is still a vast, untapped opportunity.

The Government must face down the scaremongers and seize it.

VOTERS don’t much care who occupies which chair in Boris Johnson’s Government. They just want results.

For what it’s worth, though, yesterday’s changes look like improvements to us.

The cheerful new Chief Whip should help calm relations between No10 and fractious Tory backbenchers.

And Jacob Rees-Mogg, a true Brexiteer, should make a decent fist of maximising the many opportunities from leaving the EU which Covid delayed.

But the public isn’t obsessed by reshuffles. Nor, for that matter, by the choreographed efforts of Boris-hating MPs, Remainer bores and their media mates to blame the PM for random anti-vaxx yobs barracking Keir Starmer.

Voters want action on the cost of living — and the promises of Brexit fulfilled.

Get on with it, PM.


Greenpeace boss Morgan to become Germany's new climate envoy

Jennifer Morgan, who heads the environmental group Greenpeace International, is to become Germany's new climate envoy, officials said Tuesday.

She will be taking on a key role in the new center-left government that has pledged to ramp up Germany's efforts to curb global warming, including through its presidency of the Group of Seven major economies.

Morgan is to be formally announced in the new role Wednesday by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, a member of the environmentalist Green Party officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because her appointment — first reported by German weekly Der Spiegel — still needs to be approved by the Cabinet.

The American-born campaigner, who has co-led Greenpeace since 2016, has been a prominent figure in international climate diplomacy for years.




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