Coal Money vs. Wind Power Redux

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The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

Coal Money vs. Wind Power Redux

Wendy Williams

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. So let us try to behold with an open mind this offspring of a wild night of passion between the fossil-fuel business and the Politico-Lobbyist Complex in Washington. It might look like an ugly duckling to some, but connoisseurs of the Beltway might see it as a swan.

"I myself quite honestly would rather see a surface coal-mining project than a windmill farm," Congressman Nick Rahall told House colleagues four years ago.

An unusual point of view, but to each his own. Who can determine what another man finds wonderful?

Rahall, however, apparently feels very strongly about not mucking up the American landscape.

Recently this West Virginia Democrat and head of the House Committee on Natural Resources wrote a letter complaining about wind turbines -- not in his state, but in Nantucket Sound, a 12-hour drive from where he lives.

Surely he's not going to tell us he'd see them from West Virginia and they'd ruin his view? After all, the mountains aren't all that high in the Mountaineer State, and indeed many are rapidly getting shorter as their tops are cut off for the coal.

"Concerns have been raised that the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Cape Wind energy project may be deficient," this big recipient of coal-lobbying money wrote in an official letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Keep me apprised, growled the old congressman.

Oh, no! Not again!

Can't the expensive people funding the anti-Cape Wind effort find some more original way to entertain us this summer? We've seen Act One, Two and Three of this play already: They tried this via Virginia Sen. John Warner (related by rich ex-wife and his rich children to Nantucket Sound), via Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (related by property ownership to Nantucket Sound) and via Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (related by friendship, legislative deals and old age with Ted Kennedy to Nantucket Sound).

None of those back-alleyways yielded fruit. The 130-turbine, 468-megawatt project is still progressing, albeit ponderously.

So what's the point of bringing Rahall on board?

The explanation is convoluted, but intriguing. It's like one of those huge jigsaw puzzles that's so frustrating to work on but so very satisfying when you finally see the big picture.

First and foremost, and so obvious that it's hardly worth mentioning, is the truism that the coal industry hates wind power. Wind power has already begun to take market share away from coal. That trickle is turning into a flood.

But why, specifically, Nick Rahall? And why right now?

Here's where the fun starts. It turns out that one of the congressman's aides, one Stefan L.B. Bailey, left the statesman's office about a year ago to work for lobbying firm BKSH & Associates Worldwide.

And it turns out that a few months ago the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound hired BKSH to lobby to "defeat the proposal for 130 wind turbines and platform on Horseshoe Shoal," according to BKSH's lobbying-disclosure form.

And, finally, it turns out that shortly after the alliance tied the knot with BKSH, the Rahall warning went off to Interior Secretary Kempthorne.

Coincidence? It's all in the eye of the beholder, just like the difference between strip mining and wind energy.

--Wendy Williams

© 2008 The Providence Journal Co.

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