Rick Webb: Overruling self-governance in rural Virginia
Why is it that some of Virginia’s urban politicians show so little respect for the citizens of our rural counties? I refer to State Sens. Dick Saslaw (D) of Springfield and John Watkins (R) of Midlothian, who have co-sponsored a bill (SB 1341) before the General Assembly that would override local authority over the siting of commercial wind energy projects. They follow in the footsteps of State Senator Frank Wagner (R) of Virginia Beach, who for years has worked on behalf of corporate wind and against the interests of rural communities.
These legislators from northern and eastern Virginia seem to think the citizens of western Virginia’s rural counties warrant only second-class status when it comes to self governance.
Do they think we are less capable than they to evaluate whether the potential benefits compensate for the environmental and human tradeoff associated with industrial-scale wind energy development in our mountain landscape? Do they think that we cannot properly decide for ourselves whether the sweeping claims of the wind industry and its advocates are based on reality or simply self-interested promotion and wishful thinking?
Maybe Senators Saslaw and Watkins think it proper that those of us who live in rural Virginia should concede to the wisdom of those, like themselves, who live in the midst of relentless high-consumption urban sprawl. They are right, after all, to recognize that business as usual is not going to solve our energy and environmental problems. Clearly, sacrifices must be made by someone, and who better than someone far from one’s voting district? And besides, almost every politician worth his campaign contributions knows it would be insensitive to address the real sources of our energy problems.
So, how do we understand this particular power play by Senators Saslaw and Watkins?
Is it perhaps a sort of benevolent despotism on behalf of the greater good that we dim provincials cannot be expected to understand? Or is it simply the usual matter of politicians doing the bidding of corporate interests for whom the legitimate workings of democratic government have become an inconvenience?
Rick Webb, who lives in Virginia’s Highland County, manages the VaWind.org website. He is a Senior Scientist with the Dept. of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, where he studies Appalachian watershed ecology.