Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Environmentalism vs. Democracy?

Governing the Eco-Commons
By J.B. Ruhl
October 2, 2006
Post 1

I am pleased to post my first post on this exciting new blog in the Jurisdynamics Network, and thank Jim Chen for setting it up.

As I have done on the Jurisdynamics blog, I'd like to start out with a series coverage of a relevant theme. My field of interest for purposes of BioLaw is environmental law with a focus on ecosystem management governance, ecosystem services, and the specific resource issues of endangered species and wetlands.

My first series is "Governing the Eco-Commons," and as the name suggests it will focus on how we establish institutions and instruments for dealing with ecosystem management issues. This post carries over a theme I recently raised on a listserve for environmental law professors and which has produced some illuminating observations. My plan is to summarize the listserve comments and any comments received on this blog and post that in the near future.

So, with no further delay, here is the question I posed:

Environmentalism has never had a reputation for being particularly attached to democratic values. Perhaps in the early 1970s the two agendas matched up, but let’s face it, since then environmentalism has lost on the election front more than it has won. And it has a well-deserved reputation for being a fair-weather friend: when it looks like the courts won’t help out, by gosh the legislatures are the answer, and vice versa.

An example comes from Tallahassee, where we are trying to figure out our energy and environment future. On the table is an option to participate as a partner in a proposed new coal-fired power plant. When this proposal seemed like a live threat in terms of support on the city council, local environmental groups demanded a straw vote referendum. They got one, and they lost--the majority of voters favored participation as a partner in the new plant. To be sure, there are all sorts of post-mortems on the vote, all with more spin than Nadal can put on his kick serve, but the bottom line is that the majority of voters (who voted) said they want the plant. Nevertheless, local environmental groups--the ones that demanded the vote--now vow a fight to the death in court, prompting this comment in today's paper (we have an anonymous comment forum called “zing!”): “The people have already spoken in a referendum, and they said ‘yes’ to a coal power plant. Let democracy work, and get off your anti-coal high horses already.”

I realize few readers will have all the facts on this particular case, but what is the general take on the question of how environmentalism and democratic values are playing out in the U.S in the opening decade of the 21st century?


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