Monday, October 19, 2009

Greenwash Gremlin's October Surprise

Two surprises have come my way so far this month. First there was the news from the activists at Stop Chewing Carbon that the proposed biomass-burning facility in Greenfield would produce more CO2 per megawatt hour than the coal-burning Mount Tom plant in Holyoke but would still qualify for taxpayer assistance. Then came the news from Associated Press that Saudi Arabia is looking for public assistance too, just in case the world becomes less dependent on oil.

While stories about energy corporations getting tax breaks and other incentives under the guise of "green energy" may raise my ire they fail to raise either of my eyebrows nowadays. The AP story about Saudi Arabia joining the dole queue, on the other hand, sent both eyebrows upward and nearly triggered a coffee-out-the-nose event. As a forty-something I clearly remember the effects of the 1973 oil embargo and, seven years later, the Saudi government's expulsion of Her Majesty's ambassador to Riyadh in protest at a British TV drama called Death of a Princess, so I have no illusions about the regime. But not even in my most cynical of moods had I ever imagined the oil-rich theocratic oligarchy asking for a hand-out.

The outrageousness of the Saudi request has me at a loss for words, other than to ask myself whether, with billionaires posing as victims and tree-burners dressed up as tree-huggers, Halloween came early this year. But I do have a public-policy suggestion for countering greenwashing here in Massachusetts.

What is the appropriate response when companies tout themselves as green in order to qualify for public funding? Part of me wants to march into court armed with Chapter 26, Section 91, of the Massachusetts General Laws and force them to stop, one by one. After all, what is the point of having a law against false advertising if we don't use it?

The other part of me (the saner part, I think) wants to file legislation that would set sensible conditions for providing electricity in Massachusetts and our neighboring states. My proposed interstate compact would create an incentive for power companies to switch to genuinely renewable energy. How? By prohibiting the fossil-based alternatives.

If a corporation wants to sell power to the people of New England it would have to prove that the power came from a non-fossil source. In other words, the only way an energy provider could do business in New England would be for it to get out of fossil fuels completely and into renewables a.s.a.p. The compact would involve the six New England state governments acting together -- with each state punching above its weight -- to take on the power moguls.

I think it's worth a try. What do you think?

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