At a recent hearing on natural gas drilling in my county, a rancher stood before our planning commission and said, "I support President Bush's policies to make America energy independent, and I don't want to be a NIMBY, but ... " He then went on to outline the catastrophic impacts gas drilling could have on Delta County's outfitting and big-game hunting economies.
His dilemma is a real one. Whether
it's gas drilling in western Colorado, or nuclear waste storage in
Yucca Mountain, Nev., or a South Carolina governor threatening to
lie down on the train tracks to stop nuclear waste from entering
his state, Not-In-My-Back-Yardism is everywhere. Yet no one wants
to be a NIMBY.
The people who say that they don't
want to bear the burden of our nation's energy development or
radioactive-waste disposal are called unpatriotic or hypocritical.
In my county, the pointed attack against NIMBYism goes, "How do you
heat your home?" and we are forced to admit that we do indeed warm
our homes, light our stoves and heat our water, often with natural
But is this the end of the debate? After
all, NIMBYs often say no because they have legitimate concerns.
Should they sit meek and silent while their livelihoods, property
values, water and communities are destroyed by the gas drilling
industry? Should we say to them, "Too bad, you live in the wrong
spot. Suck it up, sacrifice for the nation and
NIMBY tells us something important. The
cowboy standing up in a public meeting to enumerate economic and
wildlife impacts to his county is telling us that every time we
turn on a gas stove and experience the warm glow of cheap, readily
available fuel, we are taking pleasure while he or someone like him
suffers the real cost.
NIMBY is the warning sign
that tells us our system is broken. It tells us that some energy
companies choose to ignore their impacts, either because they
believe the impacts are too expensive to remedy, or because impacts
are "externalities," unconnected to profits. NIMBY tells us that
our government bureaucrats haven't been paying attention to the
A friend of mine has a son
growing up in the Bronx. One in two children in his neighborhood
have respiratory problems. Not coincidentally, a solid-waste
incinerator sits nearby. The neighborhood couldn't muster the
political clout to force the incinerator elsewhere. If there'd been
a few more NIMBYs in this part of New York, my friend's son would
be breathing a lot easier today. Instead, he sits and breathes
medicine through a mask. He's 5 years old.
tells us about morality. NIMBY tells us that some of our industries
and wastes not only shouldn't be in my backyard, it's possible they
shouldn't be in anyone's backyard. If gas companies and nuclear
industries and trash incinerators can't or won't care for the
damage they inflict on their neighbors, then we as a nation need 1)
to pay more so that these companies can afford to be responsible
neighbors, or 2) change the way we consume so that our actions
don't make other people suffer.
Knowing how the
gas industry behaves in Colorado, I feel differently about turning
on my gas stove. I use it consciously and sparingly, knowing that
someone far away may have suffered when this gas was
As for the NIMBYs in my own county,
I'm joining them. We're going to fight the gas drillers until they
agree to respect our water, our wildlife and our communities, and
we're going to fight the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission until it
starts behaving like a responsible regulatory agency. We're going
to fight until our county is safe from an industry that has run
amok. Until things improve, I'm a NIMBY, and I won't apologize. If
I don't protect my backyard, who will?