Let’s Not Slip on the BANANA Appeal

Let’s Not Slip on the BANANA Appeal

BANANA.  The acronym, not the fruit.  Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.  I first saw the acronym in Tom Friedman's tome to clean energy development, Hot, Flat, and Crowded (2008).  Friedman's reaction to the BANANAs:  

As a democracy, we in America have increasingly become that kind of Banana republic.  We need more nuclear power, no one wants the waste stored near them. We think wind turbines could provide a huge boost to our power grid, but please don't put any off Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where they might mar my view of the ocean.  Solar – yes, solar is the answer but don't even think about running the high-voltage transmission line you need to get solar energy from where it can be generated at scale in the deserts of Arizona all the way over to Los Angeles.

Friedman's examples of frustration with those who thwart the development of clean energy go on and on.  Recent headlines justify his concern.  Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Teserra Solar's plan to install 34,000 solar panels in the Mojave Desert is facing a challenge during the licensing stage, including a proposal from Senator Feinstein to turn the desert into a national monument so that no renewable development can take place there.  New proposed non-carbon emitting nuclear facilities are being opposed both in the licensing stage and in the courts after agency approval in Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida.  Many other license applications are pending at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and probably face a similar fate.  Friedman bemoans, "[B]ecause of the risk of lawsuits and delays, it is probably going to take at a minimum government loan guarantees to relaunch America's nuclear industry."

Friedman's message:  "If we are going to summon the will, focus, and authority to push through a real green revolution, we will need a president who isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to lead it."  Ah, but there's the rub, because for Friedman, the transformative battle to reduce greenhouse gases is akin to a war – which leads him to suggest parallels to another "war" President, Abraham Lincoln, a role model invoked by President Obama from time to time, who suspended the laws of habeas corpus during the Civil War.  

I don't believe we want or need to go that far.  But if this economic transformation of our economy is so important, the leadership that Friedman summons is going to have to announce some priorities and that leadership will have to ruffle the BANANA advocates.  We don't need to suspend legal rights.  But we can limit and expedite the licensing and judicial review processes.  We can also adjust the standard of judicial review.  We have done this before when the need arises.  Legislation can fast-track decision-makers and fast-track legal review so that the case is in and out of the courts in a matter of months rather than years.  And if one judicial circuit gets backed up with these priority appeals, a panel can reassign them to another circuit that is not backed up.

The proposed clean energy legislation does not address this systemic problem, probably for political reasons, and it is worth asking whether the Congressional Budget Office reasonably factored in the BANANA-effect delay in estimating the costs and benefits of the clean energy legislation?  As the Senate proceeds to consider clean energy legislation, will it show the courage to solve the split personality toward environmental benefits that stands as a barrier to transformation?  Let's not slip this one up on the BANANA appeal.

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