NIMBY is Not a Four-Letter Word (Part 2)

Hey! You! Get off of my Coast (with apologies to the Rolling Stones)

In these days of intense partisanship and Congressional gridlock, here’s a plan for bringing the representatives of both parties together: propose drilling for oil and gas in their coastal waters.

Take the state of Maine, for example, which has a Republican senator (Susan Collins), an Independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats (Angus King), a Republican congressman (Bruce Poliquin), and a Democratic congresswoman (Chellie Pingree). All four expressed immediate opposition to the Department of the Interior’s announcement last week to open up over 90% of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling – a modest expansion over the current limit of 6%.

Only Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, who loves oil even more than he loathes environmentalists, refused to condemn the proposal on its face. “The governor believes in a balanced approach,” said a spokeswoman, using a phrase that long ago became a euphemism for “drill, baby drill.” But even LePage seems prepared to oppose some drilling sites to protect the environment, commercial fishing and tourism.

And it’s not only Maine. Almost every coastal state opposes drilling off its shores, which begs the obvious question: if this is such a great idea, why are those most directly affected by it so resistant? Is this just another example of NIMBYs who want to protect their neighborhoods? Of coastal elites who are pleased to fill their tanks and furnaces with oil, gas and coal from “flyover country,” happy to pollute the Gulf of Mexico but hands off the Gulf of Maine?

Maine coast on a winter evening (photo by Daniel Blaine)

Maybe it’s all a cynical plot to stick it to the blue states. After all, the red state of Florida got an exemption almost before the ink was dry on Ryan Zinke’s press release.

But maybe these states are on to something. After all, the Interior Department didn’t just vastly expand the proposed areas of drilling, it simultaneously repealed the safety regulations put in after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, while Congress didn’t see fit to renew the oil tax that funds cleaning up the oil companies’ inevitable messes – all in the name of “the most far-reaching regulatory reform in history” we keep hearing is so good for America. Yet no one who has read Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land will soon forget the environmental damage the people in Lake Charles, Louisiana, endure every single day.

My local newspaper noted that Zinke’s call to achieve “American energy dominance” conflicts with our community’s current efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.

Maybe the NIMBYs in Maine are like the canaries in the coal mines who sense the danger of poisoning the places where we live.

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.