Two Discussions

I had two discussions yesterday about the coal plant. One was with a long-time friend, businessman, and someone I respect. The second was with a group of people. The insights I gained from these discussions are so general, though, I am not even tagging this as a "coal plant" post.

The first fellow was mildly defending the City of Great Falls' actions on the coal plant. While he prefaced his comments with an agreement that the documents I have sought should be forthcoming, he tempered this position with the recognition of just how hard it is for governments to operate.

"If I walk down Central Avenue and ask 10 different people their opinions on the coal plant, I'll get 10 different opinions. Some of them might not even make any sense." Under these conditions it is extremely difficult to create a project like the coal plant because there is constant opposition, ranging from the considered to the silly. It is only by pushing forward, saying just what needs to be said, keeping details under wraps, that anything can get done.

It is not an unreasonable or unsupportable position. He is correct that much input tends to wander from the issue at hand or reflect unrelated bias of the person offering it.

In response, though, I said that we cannot sacrifice our notion of a participatory democracy in the name of expedience. The difficulty fulfilling democratic ideals while creating an entrepreneurial venture does not suggest that we should abandon the ideals, but suggests instead that we should abandon the ventures. This is why governments should lay streets and provide fire departments, not go into businesses competing with the private sector like water parks. (Or at a minimum, if governments do decide to go into business, they had better factor into their costs the expense of participatory government.)

Private enterpise, on the other hand, does not face these problems. If I want to buy the land and build a coal plant, I have to face public criticism about the public aspects of the project (pollution, water use, etc.) but the internal workings are up to me and me alone. The City of Great Falls wants to keep their internal workings private, and that's where the conflict arises.

The second discussion I had was with a group. I attended a meeting of Citizens for Clean Energy. These are the people who oppose the coal plant primarily on environmental grounds. I disagree with many of their positions, but that is not the point today.

What I found in this group was a committed, cross-section of our community. They are not environmental whackos. They are people with different beliefs and different priorities.

What troubled me after meeting these people is some of the undercurrent of discussion about coal plant opponents. The whispered assumption is that they are the far-left, the nut-jobs. It's not true. And we shouldn't let attempts to marginalize or silence them succeed.

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Kum ba yah.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks GeeGuy. We are a cross section of the community and only interested in preserving and having the best for our community....CCE member!