Beware of Those Who Project the Future

Big Coal abandons its PATH to power

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 "The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise … economics is a form of brain damage."—Hazel Henderson

This lively little snippet came to mind the other day when we got news that the PATH project—that’s Potomac-Appalachia Transmission Highline—a massive boondoggle that would have served Big Coal to the detriment of the burgeoning green-power industry (and to the detriment of the places it would have passed through) had gone off the rails.

The project’s undoing, at least for now, were demand projections. The promoters of the plan had wildly overestimated the need for the line in the future, and experts rounded up by PATH opponents (Abbie Dillen of Earthjustice is their lawyer) pointed out the fact. PATH folded its tent.

A similar scenario recently played out in Florida, where promoters of a huge new coal plant also caved in when their projections were shown to be, shall we say, optimistic (that plant now will be solar instead of coal-fired). David Guest and Monica Reimer of Earthjustice were the lawyers on that one.

And finally, Tom Waldo, also an Earthjustice attorney, has repeatedly fended off timber sales in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska by showing that projections of future demand for the wood were vastly exaggerated.

The moral of the story? Maybe this: When someone says a project is justified based on what people or the economy will demand in 10 years or 20, take a very close look at the numbers. As Hazel says, economics has always been nothing more than politics in disguise. She should know; she’s an economist herself.

Tom Turner literally wrote the books about Earthjustice during his more-than-25 years with the organization. A lifelong resident of Berkeley, CA, he is most passionate about Earthjustice's maiden issue: wilderness preservation.