Environmental, Chemistry & Hazardous Materials News, Careers & Resources

Editor's Blog

National Park Service Superintendent states "Global Warming Irrelevant" in opposing wind farm

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Friday, September 21, 2007]

Yesterday (9/20/2007), the National Park Service's Appalachian Trail Superintendent Pam Underhill of West Virginia, stated that global warming was "irrelevant" while testifying in opposing to the placement of Maine Mountain Power's proposed 18 wind turbines on Black Nubble Mountain near Sugarloaf Maine. Underhill, who was testifying in her official capacity as a NPS superintendent front of Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), said she has fought hard to protect trail for 30 years and considers it her middle child. In her testimony she said didn't want wind turbines located anywhere near what she considers to be a pristine section of the Appalachian Trail because she didn't want hikers to have to see them. Under questioning she acknowledged that global warming was a concern, however, Underhill refused to say whether she would prefer to see the development of renewable energy over the development of more coal fired power plants.

In response to the National Resources Council of Maine's support for the wind farm, which would be three miles from the Appalachian Trail at its closet point, Underhill stated:

"I do not know why the National Resources Council of Maine decided to throw the Appalachian Trail under the bus on this one, but it is not something we will forget any time soon."

In the past, the National Resources Council of Maine had opposed the wind farm, but after negotiations lead Maine Mountain Power to reduce their proposed project from 30 turbines spread over two mountain tops to just 18 turbines on one mountain top, the NRC of Maine threw their support behind the project.

In an interview aired on a Maine Public Broadcasting news report of Maine's Land Use Regulatory Commission's public hearings for the proposed wind farm project Shawn Mahoney, Vice President of Conservation Law Foundation's Maine chapter, said he was stunned to hear Underhill say that global warming was irrelevant when considering this project.

Personally, I'm more than just stunned that Underhill stated global warming is irrelevant, I'm beyond disbelief on so many levels. First I see this as an issue of someone from a distant state forcing her view of the way things should be on another state that is trying to satisfy part of its energy needs in more environmentally sustainable ways. Second, I wonder, what is worse, hikers occasionally seeing wind turbines on a distant mountain peak or hikers not seeing the mountain peak at all because of pollution from coal fired power plants? Maybe she prefers that power plants burning West Virginia coal continue to belch out mercury laden pollution that then rains down and poison the fish in our lakes and streams such that the fish are not safe for hikers to eat? Maybe she prefers to do nothing to try and reduce our contributing to the melting of the polar ice caps and driving species that depend upon those icepacks for survival.

Wind turbines are not appropriate on every mountain top, but they can be an important part of our renewable energy mix and with other renewable energies can help reduce the need for more coal fired power plants. It is Mainers who will see these wind turbines the most and if Mainers are willing to accept some visual blemishes on our horizons to reduce our overall environmental impact, who is Underhill, to interfere. After all, she lives in a state that removes mountains to get to coal (I wonder what that does to their scenic views?). I remember working in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia along the Appalachian Trail some twenty years ago and not being able to see distant mountains because of pollution. I'd much rather see an occasional wind farm on a distant mountain than not see the mountains at all. I'd prefer not to lose parts of some costal State and National parks here in Maine to rising oceans caused by the melting of polar ice caps. I don't want my grand children or great grand children to never experience the taste of Maine maple syrup because a warming planet did in our sugar maples. Finally, I'd love to be able to have our lakes and streams free of mercury pollution so that I could go fishing with my children and eat the fish we catch.

Related coverage elsewhere


NOTICE: Comments are user generated feedback and do not represent the views and/or opinions of EnvironmentalChemistry.com.

Unknown said...

Pam Underhill, no doubt, was stating that Global Warming is not the issue under review by LURC. She knows as well as anybody else about global warming. The NRCM spokesman knows that National Parks are a federal issue, so his criticism of Pam and his reference to her office being in West Virginia (Harpers Ferry) is absolutely ludicrous! These NRCM fools have their pride on the line. Their position on Black Nubble is just plain wrong! Please, Mr. NRCM. Don't "swift boat" Pam Underwood!

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

If you listen to what Underhill says and the way she says it in the radio piece I link to, you will see that it is Underhill, who is trying to "swift boat" others. She is down right nasty and condescending to those who disagrees with her. For a public servant, her comments and personal attacks on others were completely unacceptable. At the very least she should be censured for her comments. I am not saying she should be censured for her stance on this issue, but for the way she acted and the way she attacked others, which was totally unbecoming of a public servant.

Underhill has gone from being a responsible steward of the Appalachian Trail to believing it is hers and hers alone. She has no room to for opinions that differs from hers when it comes to the trail and she viciously attacks those who get in her way. Simply put it is time for her to be removed from her post and a fresh face be brought in to replace her.

Underwood's way of thinking would virtually lock up millions of acres of land in Maine, which are not federal lands but just happen to be able to viewed at some point (no matter how small) from the Appalachian Trail. While the effect on the Appalachian Trail needs to be considered when evaluating any land use, the trail can not be a primary or overriding concern. Environmentally speaking, bringing wind farms into Maine are more than just about global warming. They are about helping to build an environmentally sustainable power grid that can also help make Maine more energy independent. These issues are more important than whether or not hikers would see some wind turbines on a mountain peak miles away.

When I look at a wind farm, I don't see blight on the landscape, I see responsible environmental stewardship. To me every wind farm represents that much less power that must be generated from energy sources that require the continual raping of the land through mining, pollution that is released into the atmosphere, and hazardous wastes that have to be disposed of.

Yes, the placement of wind farms needs to be sensitive to micro environmental issues of where they are sited (e.g. don't want them in a major bird flyway). I do not believe, however, aesthetic concerns from places miles away should play an overriding role. Aesthetic concerns are not true environmental concerns. They are simply a matter of NIMBY (not in my back yard) where people do not want to see the things that are required to keep our society functioning. In short, NIMBY is about wanting to benefit from the conveniences of modern society, without being willing to share in the burden of making those conveniences possible.

Looking at wind turbines on a distant mountain peak is a very small price to pay in order to help reduce the air pollution our society generates and to reduce the need to strip our mountains of the non-renewable resources they contain. Wind farms do not represent the destruction of pristine environments and landscapes, they represent the reduction in the need to remove mountains to get to their contents.

Ranger Bob said...

Underhill, who was testifying in her official capacity as a NPS superintendent front of Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), said she has fought hard to protect trail for 30 years and considers it her middle child.

In my 27 years of service with the NPS, I encountered more than one superintendent who seemed to view the park where he or she worked as a personal fiefdom. However, this is the first time I've ever run across one who thinks she's the park's mommy.

Message to Superintendent Underhill: the Appalachian Trail is old enough to stay out late and choose its own friends now... maybe including wind farms.

Anonymous said...

The fact that she is from WV is actually relevant. Mountaintop removal mining is devastating the lives of communities there as well as forests and streams. Numerous people have been killed in floods off of mines sites as well as untold numbers dying from water contamination. Not to mention what occurs when that coal is burned. This is an environmental justice issue and the superintendent must know better and is therefor culpable. We have had to deal with such elite callousness from our Senator Alexander in TN, who actually has said before congress he prefers the sight of strip mines to wind turbines (he called them "decorative art" compared to wind farms). Underhill's disregard for the millions of lives that will be affected by climate change is immoral and inexcusable by bureaucratic jurisdictional claims.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Ranger Bob, as I commented on your blog, when I saw your comment about mommy Underhill, I about split a gut laughing. That was truly priceless.

Ryan, the comments by your senator are truly disturbing. You are correct as well that Underhill being from West Virginia is very relevant.

I have seen several special reports on TV about what coal mining is doing to the environment and how it is devastating the lives of communities there. What is being done to WV and the people there to keep us supplied with cheap electricity should be a national shame.

Anonymous said...

When talking about global warming, there are a few questions that must be dealt with.

First, is climate warming? The answer, though not definitive yet, is probably yes. We can readily see some evidence of that happening.

The Earth is a dynamic system, which means it is constantly in flux. Average temperatures are continually moving up or down. Equilibrium would mean that the system was dead. In spite of what Al Gore says, there never has been a time of equilibrium in the system, and that's a good thing.

Second, if temps are going up, what is the cause? Is it Man's contribution of greenhouse gases? Conventional wisdom (as portrayed in most of the media, anyway) says 'yes'. But the truth is that that is a hypothesis, not even a full-fledged theory yet, and certainly not an established scientific fact. Let me explain:

Obviously we can't put the Earth into a laboratory and experiment on it. Experiments must be done on climate models. Scientists formulate a hypothesis, plug their assumptions into the model, and then see if the model can predict reality.

Even the best climate models don't predict reality very well. Heck, the Old Farmer's Almanac does a better job of predicting weather patterns and climate trends.

So what's going on? Is it worse than even the scientists have predicted?

That's one explanation offered by the manmade global warming enthusiasts, but a simpler, scientific, and less hysterical explanation is simply that one or more of the assumptions programmed into the model are incorrect. That just means the hypothesis is flawed. It does not prove or disprove the scientists opinions. Garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes.

So how do we get from a flawed hypothesis to a sound scientific theory? The short answer is: we don't. The hysteria is due to politics and propaganda.

How do we get from politics and propaganda to an established scientific fact? Again, we don't, obviously. What we get is more politics and perhaps public policy.

Why? In two words: money and power.

More taxes. Higher prices on energy. Control of energy sources. Sales of books, 'carbon offsets', and myriad 'green' merchandise.

Does it bother the True Believer that Al Gore has 200 million dollars in the bank from selling carbon offsets, which do nothing to actaully help the environment? That his prediction of a 10-foot rise in sea level is echoed by not one scientist anywhere? No, of course not. Some people want to be scared. Does it bother them that Gore sued his 'mentor' Roger Revelle, to shut him up when Revelle objected to his name being used in Gore's environmental campaign? Again, of course not. Impending catastophe is supremely sexy.

Does it bother the True Believer to learn that many of the scientists involved in the IPCC project sued to have their names removed from the report?

Does it bother the True Believer that the grandfather of global warming politics is a man named Maurice Strong, a big UN muckety-muck who happens to be a eugenicist and de-populationist? No, of course not. Those same people craving catastrophe probably don't understand the implications of those words.

But politics and global evil aside, should we be concerned about climate change? The answer to that is an unqualified 'maybe'. So wouldn't it be nice to just let the scientists work without all the propaganda and hysteria?

Despite the claims of 'consensus', the science is very, very far from being settled. Do you realize there are still scientists studying gravity? And you thought that had been 'settled' long ago, didn't you?

Bottom line: Don't let anybody take your money or freedom based on a hypothesis. And real science is not done by a show of hands. Recognize the doomsayers, propagandists, and slanted journalists (and bloggers) for who they are and get on with life.

But don't necessarily abandon your 'green' practices. They'll save you money in the long run and conservation is always a good thing.

camojack said...

Ron Kling:
Very good...I couldn't have said it better myself.

And I've been saying it for awhile...

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Where I will agree with Ron Kling is that "green practices" are about more than just climate change. Green practices will save one a lot of money in the long run and conservation is always a good thing. This is why when I look at or write about renewable energy issues like wind power I always try to look beyond just the popular global warming issues.

Even if people don't want to believe in global warming (this isn't a debate that can be settled here and nobody will change anyone's opinion so there is no use trying), there is too many other examples of the environmental and social harm our burning of fossil fuels like coal is doing. Here in Maine we can not eat the fish out of many of our lakes, streams and coastal waters because they are contaminated by dangerous levels of mercury. This mercury is the result of mid western coal power plants and industrial facilities that have belched out mercury laden smoke for decades that drifted across the United States and rained out across New England and especially in Maine.

Another example of the damage being done by the burning of coal, which I hope to write about next week, deals with why the arctic ice cap is melting at least twice as fast as was predicted by climate change models. It turns out that the carbon soot laid down in the snow and ice of the arctic regions are acting like tiny solar absorbers and are helping to heat up the ice and cause it to melt at accelerated rates. Without the arctic ice packs species like the polar bear could go extinct within 50 years in the wild.

Look at the social costs of coal mining. There are towns in West Virginia where the air is not fit to breath because of all the coal dust floating around and their water is unfit to drink. How many coal miners have died mining the coal that keeps our power plants running? How many streams and rivers have been killed by the run off from coal tailings ponds? Towns have been wiped out by catastrophic floods and mud slides caused when coal mine tailings ponds have failed. Wars have been fought to keep the supply of oil flowing. The social cost of fossil fuels has been very high.

Even if the majority scientists are wrong about climate change and man's contribution to it, which I don't think they are (but I'm not going to debate that issue here so believe what you want), there are too many other reasons why we need renewable energy. Renewable energy projects, like the wind turbines on Black Nubble Mountain, are the right thing to do for the environment and for our energy independence and national security interest. The more energy that can be produced locally in environmentally sustainable ways, the less energy we have to import. As far as I am concerned the environmental and energy independence good the Black Nubble Mountain wind farm would do far out weighs the aesthetic imposition it would imposed upon hikers of the Appalachian Trail. The project needs to be allowed to go forward and Underhill needs to stand down her opposition.

EnviroChem Logo