Natural Gas Plant Opposition: NIMBYism, or Civil Rights?

DRBC

K.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  

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A new natural gas-fired power plant faces opposition from residents over civil rights, but they are represented by special interest environmentalists. 

The children’s tale of the Little Red Hen is a great story. The story centers on a Little Red Hen who lived with a group of other animals and one day decided she was going to make some bread. She asked the other animals to help at every stage of the process, but no one would lift a paw or feather to help. She planted the seeds, cut and milled the wheat, and baked the bread by herself. When the bread was done, she asked who would help her eat it and to no surprise, everyone wanted in on the reward.

What makes this story great is that it teaches children that you cannot expect the reward if you refuse to help. Today, of course, not only would the other animals not help, but they would expect the bread to be organic (which also brings to mind the Seinfeld muffin tops episode).

This is also what we also see happening in the world of natural gas and the environment. We have people who demand cheap energy and clean fuel, but refuse to accept having any of it in their back yard. They are NIMBYs. NIMBYism is a term anyone involved in land use or zoning is thoroughly familiar with. They want one thing or another, but Not In My Back Yard.

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Site of a proposed gas-fired power plant in Brandywine, Md.

When the Obama Administration devised the Clean Power Plan, it put a heavy burden on coal plants. Many of the smaller plants just closed or the owners are planning on decommissioning them as the cost for conversion would be too high. This is tough on the coal industry, but great for natural gas. Smaller natural gas plants are being constructed to meet the demand for clean power, but fractivists, of course, oppose it. This is what we are seeing in Maryland as a natural gas-fueled power plant, the Panda Mattawoman Power Plant is being met with resistance. It is the third plant planned within a 15 mile radius and now some groups are saying the plants are violating civil rights.

The plant is being planned in Prince George’s County, Maryland (known locally as “PG County”). According to the Census Bureau, PG County has a population of 909,535 and nearly 65% of residents were African American in 2014. Panda Mattawoman Power Plant is expected to generate 859 Megawatts of clean energy or enough to power 859,000 homes. This means pretty much anywhere one would place a plant in PG County could be argued to create a civil rights issue, but is it really?

If it were, the citizens might have been expected to look to the NAACP, the National Urban League or the ACLU for help, but, if we are to believe the hype, they reached out to a much different group to do their fighting: Earthjustice, a radical environmental group funded by the likes of the very rich and very white Sea Change Foundation, Energy Foundation and Park Foundation. The group boasts their client’s names very openly and it contains all the usual suspects (e.g., Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, et al).

Earthjustice also seems to specialize in fighting fracking and infrastructure development. It appears to me, in fact, this is more of a case of fighting natural gas than defending civil rights, especially when you begin to consider their clients’ fights on Cove Point and the recent fracking ban in the same county just a month or so ago.

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Panda Mattawoman Power Project

I have, in my career, looked at hundreds of power plants and Panda Mattawomen is designed to be top-notch. Not only will it create 800 construction jobs, but the plant is designed to:

  • Utilize the latest, most advanced emissions-control technology, making it one of the cleanest natural gas-fueled power plants in the United States
  • Use Siemens H-class gas turbines — the world’s first generation technology to achieve operating efficiencies of 60 percent.
  • Not use potable water for cooling purposes, conserving Maryland’s natural supply of drinking water
  • Use treated wastewater for cooling purposes and return no wastewater to a treatment facility — subsequently preventing the discharge of harmful nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay

This all boils down to the Little Red Hen syndrome of wanting clean energy, but refusing to help and NIMBYs fighting to keep a gas plant out of their community with the help of some very special interests. Civil rights seems to be little more than a convenient excuse in this instance and one that can easily be turned completely around. Why, after all, should the residents of PG County be denied this economic development; this clean inexpensive energy to satisfy the whims of wealthy outsiders determined to prevent natural gas development for the sake of their own interests? Isn’t that the real question?

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9 thoughts on “Natural Gas Plant Opposition: NIMBYism, or Civil Rights?

  1. i support nat gas but always wondered why the generating cos don’t try giving discounts to the people next door. make believe out to 3/4 mile 20% off, out to1.25 mile 10%. something to get the neighbors on board. 20% off they might not be sooo nimby

  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/31/opinion/who-bears-the-most-risk-from-fracking.html

    So in the news today not a blog I just read an editorial representing the editorial board and nytimes publisher’s positions on some things relating to fracking and natural gas. Its a very interesting editorial as the publisher and editorial board appear to support local bans on fracking among other points made.

    Not unlike frequent news coverage of natural gas issues the editorial appears to hit on many current talking points of the antifracking natural gas movement which isn’t surprising considering some of the orgs mentioned.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/opinion/editorialboard.html

  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/opinion/stop-a-pipeline-for-fracked-gas.html

    This was something, an op Ed written by Al gores daughter, on the Constitution pipeline . It appeared 6 days prior to the DEC permit denial of constituion pipe permit. It like the nytimes editorial on a wide range of issues having to do with fracking including for natural gas and oil and Quigley and local laws and bans is an opinion.

    Since both opinions are published in the nytimes as opposed to this blog one can assume those opinions reached more people than blog posts here.

    According to the nytimes the editorial section operates outside of their news reporting.

    What reporting on natural gas issues say spectra aim pipeline and arrests or resistance including for proposals like the one at Seneca lake has the nytimes done recently? Who appeared in those reports as sources? Sane energy projects patrick Robbins also credited with being with resist aim for one was used in both Lisa foderero coverage of spectra aim and in an article which featured bill mckibben and arrests as well.

    What has transpired since the two news articles on spectra aim and civil disobedience for all fossil fuel infrastructure projects? Well more news about spectra aim for one thing and more arrests for another.

    What has not happened since Lisa fodereros article which announced that 4 ny state departments were engaging in some sort of limited review for spectra aim is any reporting whatsoever about progress made on this independent review. Not one.

  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/proposed-maryland-power-plant-violates-civil-rights-rural-pr-georges-residents-say/2016/05/12/415e1340-186c-11e6-9e16-2e5a123aac62_story.html

    Does the news coverage on this plant resemble the pattern seen with other natural gas projects whether pipelines or power plants? I know nothing about this specific project except what I saw at the link you provided. I would say yes it follows a pattern or recent trend since for one thing the news is about a project permitted last fall.

  5. http://www.berkshireeagle.com/columnists/ci_29948567/karina-wilkinson-major-ramifications-sandisfield-pipeline

    That falls under the opinion category and it is in the news I think not a blog and an opinion written by food and water watch a major antifracking pipeline resistance org. It doesn’t read that much differently than Al gores daughters nytimes op Ed on constituion pipe either. They may be about different pipes but the message is still the same. No fracking. No natural gas. No pipelines. Arrests made news regarding a power plant in ny some time ago and because an actor was involved that coverage went viral.

    Who are the people both educating about fracking and pipelines and power plants and ferc and in the news besides food and water watch? Well in the nytimes opinion today clean air council and Sierra club were mentioned. The opinion didn’t mention that both are against fracking, natural gas and most infrastructure.

    Who does karenna Gore work with? Well catskillmountainkeeper for one. It would seem her organization works with resist aim and sane energy too. As does clean air council. Remember the clean air council also was involved in Rockaway pipe mythmaking too.

  6. These protests are nothing more than the philosophy of Saul Alinsky (RULES FOR RADICAL) being put into practice. Yes, there must be opportunities to make comments to ensure the plants and pipelines are safe and less intrusive, but not to stop them.

  7. Pingback: Opponents of New Gas Power Plants are Testing a New StrategyNatural Gas Now

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