The Environmental Left Is Its Own Worst Enemy

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Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has staked his legacy on the persecution of “climate deniers.” It’s a cause for which he seems ideally suited: He is the sort of person who would have been perfectly comfortable persecuting heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.

Senator Whitehouse thinks that our collective failure to do anything serious about the climate crisis is the fault of the diabolical Koch brothers and the conservative think tanks that do their demonic bidding. In fact, the senator has only himself and his environmentalist allies to blame for the daunting obstacles facing any clean-energy transition.

Consider the latest calamity to befall the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission project, which grid operators hoped would carry electricity from Iowa to Wisconsin. Like hundreds of other clean-electricity projects, this one has faced a Homeric odyssey of trials and tribulations through federal red tape and local opposition — chiefly from left-wing environmentalists with precisely the same ideological priors as Senator Whitehouse. Now, just as the project had finally obtained all the permits needed for completion, a federal district court in Wisconsin quashed the permits, almost certainly killing the project.

As Energywire explains, the high-voltage line was approved by grid operators a decade ago to run from western Iowa to southern Wisconsin. The whole purpose of the project, which would be up to 125 miles long, is to make significant new solar and wind power available to the regional electricity grid.

The project’s feasibility depends upon a right-of-way through the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, one of the nation’s largest floodplain habitats. The proposed crossing of the Mississippi River in that area requires permits from a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and Environmental Protection Agency.

After a decade of studying ways to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the project’s impacts on the wildlife refuge and other environmental resources, the federal agencies decided to grant the required permits, with Fish and Wildlife issuing its key permit to cross the wildlife refuge in 2020 — under President Trump.

That was a consistent pattern, incidentally: The Trump administration, in which I served, tried hard to get renewable-energy projects through the permits process for the simple reason that American infrastructure is suffocating in red tape, and there should be bipartisan consensus on fixing it. (There isn’t, alas. Neither the infrastructure bill nor the ill-fated “green dream” reconciliation bill did much of anything to address the problem of red tape, which raises a serious question about how serious Senator Whitehouse and his Democratic colleagues really are about climate change.)

As was to be expected, a coalition of environmental-advocacy groups sued to stop the project. In March 2021, the utilities asked Fish and Wildlife to amend the proposed route in order to avoid an Indian burial ground; then, a few months later, they instead proposed a land exchange in which they would donate an additional 30 acres to the refuge, thereby hopefully circumventing the burial ground through a quicker agency process. But then in August, Fish and Wildlife suddenly withdrew its 2020 permit, apparently hoping to fix a technical error in its description of the right-of-way before the permit was vacated by this very court.

The agency’s stratagem proved unavailing, as the district court decided to quash the permit in virtually whatever form Fish and Wildlife might propose to grant it.

The court starts by affirming that the plaintiffs have “standing” to sue. Normally, plaintiffs in a federal court case must demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct has or will cause them some particular injury — caring deeply is not enough to create a legal “case or controversy” under the Constitution. Alas for today’s proponents of clean energy, federal courts going back decades have bent over backward to loosen defendants’ constitutional protections when the plaintiff is an environmental-advocacy group.Here, as in so many other cases, the court found that the environmental-advocacy groups can sue on behalf of their members, on the thinnest of claimed injuries. In this case, according to the court, one Jean Luecke, a dues-paying member of Defenders of Wildlife, “says that she visited the Refuge twice in 2020 in lieu of her family’s yearly cruise ship vacation. Luecke also stated that she planned to go back in the summer of 2021 to do some boating.” Because the view she enjoys during these trips would be disrupted, she can block construction of transmission lines that Senator Whitehouse thinks we desperately need to save the planet. Talk about “white privilege” trumping “environmental justice.”

One reason the court vacated the Fish and Wildlife permit is that the transmission line would fragment natural habitat. Well, obviously: As we know from scientists of an environmental bent, habitat fragmentation is one of the central drivers of the biodiversity crisis, which is now well on its way to driving 20 percent of plants and animals to extinction by 2050. This is just one example among many of how the climate crisis and biodiversity crises point to opposite solutions.

Read the full article at National Review.