Monday, August 18, 2008

Corrupt Big Air & Nancy Pelosi's Appearance of Impropriety

Even as Nancy Pelosi stands foresquare against exploiting our oil and gas resources, it turns out that she invested somewhere between a hundred thousand to a quarter million of her personal money in the T. Boone Pickens firm Clean Energy Fuels Corporation. That corporation is engaged now in building the largest windfarm in the U.S. I am not sure what the House ethics rules have to say on this, but the appearance of impropriety here is huge.

Beyond Speaker Pelosi's conflict of interest, there is a write-up today on corruption associated with "Big Air" in the NYT. It would seem that all the government subsidies are having a corrupting influence indeed, particularly in NY.

This from the NYT:

BURKE, N.Y. — Everywhere that Janet and Ken Tacy looked, the wind companies had been there first.

Dozens of people in their small town had already signed lease options that would allow wind towers on their properties. Two Burke Town Board members had signed private leases even as they negotiated with the companies to establish a zoning law to permit the towers. A third board member, the Tacys said, bragged about the commissions he would earn by selling concrete to build tower bases. And, the Tacys said, when they showed up at a Town Board meeting to complain, they were told to get lost.

“There were a couple of times when they told us to just shut up,” recalled Mr. Tacy, sitting in his kitchen on a recent evening.

Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

“It really is renewable energy gone wrong,” said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the wind companies. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo agreed this year to take over the investigation.

“It’s a modern-day gold rush,” Mr. Champagne said.

Mr. Cuomo is investigating whether wind companies improperly influenced local officials to get permission to build wind towers, as well as whether different companies colluded to divide up territory and avoid bidding against one another for the same land.

The industry appears to be shying away from trying to erect the wind farms in more affluent areas downstate, even where the wind is plentiful, like Long Island.

. . . [C]orruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm’s developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative’s car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, “That’s up to you,” according to the complaint.

. . . The industry’s interest in New York’s North Country is driven by several factors. The area is mostly rural, with thousands of acres of farmland near existing energy transmission lines. Moreover, under a program begun in 2004, the state is entering into contracts to buy renewable energy credits, effectively subsidizing wind power until it can compete against power produced more cheaply from coal or natural gas.

. . . “You’re talking about a poor farming community out here,” said Brent A. Trombly, a former town supervisor of Ellenburg, which approved a law to allow and establish regulations for the wind towers in 2003. “Our only natural resources are stone and wind.”

For some farmers, he said, the wind leases were their last chance to hold onto land that had been in the family for generations. Supporters also say that the wind towers bring in badly needed tax revenue.

“We see this industry coming, we see the payments coming in,” said William K. Wood, a former Burke Town Board member who also signed a lease option. The school board of Chateaugay, he pointed out, received $332,800 this year from Noble for payments in lieu of taxes, money that the district used to lower school taxes, upgrade its computers and provide a prekindergarten class for the first time. . . .

Read the entire article. There is no problem with the communities fighting this out in the public square. The problem is when the system becomes corrupted - and in this case, that starts with government subsidies. And people like Nancy Pelosi.

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