Recently, I posted about Governor Schwarzenegger’s efforts to suspend the California version of NEPA with respect to economic stimulus infrastructure projects. Today’s news concerning the impact of the current economic downturn on an ambitious environmental agenda comes from the other coast. Massachusetts has been attempting to rival California in its commitment to a green energy economy, but the Boston Globe today reported on concerns about the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its green energy goals. My friend Rob Stavins of Harvard is quoted in the Globe as saying that the factors affecting the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its goals — including the depth of the downturn and the size and timing of the federal stimulus package — are not within our control.
The tension is obvious from just one of the administration’s pet programs. Last November, the administration announced a plan for the installation of solar panels on the roofs of big box stores and other buildings with large flat roofs. However, if no new big boxes are being built because of the economy and if big box retailers are instead closely examining their operations and closing some stores, it’s going to be hard to persuade them to incur the up-front cost to install solar panels, even if there is a long-run return.
To throw in a mention of my pet peeve, such plans are particularly likely to stick in property owners’ collective craw when, at the same time, the administration has announced draft new stormwater rules that could impose substantial costs on anyone owning an impervious surface.
The administration’s goals are laudable, a lot of progress has been made, and it’s clear that some progress will continue. However, to suggest that there is no tension at all between environmental goals and economic development seems like a serious case of wishful thinking.