Monday, October 22, 2012

Is PEER's New England Chapter Lost in the Woods?

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility does some great work nationally, but the PEER New England Chapter's strong opposition to an offshore wind project has split the group from many of its traditional allies in the conservation community, with its opposition to a public transportation initiative also raising eyebrows.

While most conservation groups are supporting Cape Wind or at least staying neutral, PEER's New England Chapter has joined wealthy oil baron William Koch in vehemently opposing the project. Even though Cape Wind would lead to massive reductions in air pollution, including the greenhouse gases fueling the climate change that threatens people and wildlife, PEER New England Chapter Chair Kyla Bennett says the potential threats to wildlife are too great. Mr. Koch, for his part, wants you to believe his opposition is all about environmental preservation and not at all about protecting the views of a handful of wealthy Cape Cod landowners.

swampPEER's New England Chapter is also the environmental group most often cited in opposing a plan to extend commuter rail from Boston to the SouthCoast cities of Fall River and New Bedford, both in desperate need of an economic boost. Despite highways clogged due to limited transit options and extensive environmental reviews, PEER's New England Chapter says trains wouldn't be worth the money and would cause irreparable damage to the Hockomock Swamp.

PEER New England Chapter Chair Kyla Bennett lives in Easton, MA, which is next to the swamp. As New Bedford Standard-Times columnist Jack Spillane put it, "Apparently, development in and around the Hockomock Swamp is alright when it's for the benefit of mostly white suburbanites, but not so acceptable when it's for the benefit of urban people, many of whom are of color."

Reasonable people can debate the costs and benefits of each project and disagree about the best course of action. But to me (and here is where I should remind you that, as always, I speak only for myself on this blog), it comes down to this: Is environmentalism about pragmatism to benefit the many? Or absolutism to protect the few?

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