February 9, 2005
The Cob power
plant is a bad thing, and everyone knows it.
And the Cob plant is a good thing, and
everyone knows that, too. There is no decision
that we mere mortals make that does not have
some part that is good, and some part that is
This is not some
wishy-washy statement made by someone who
doesn't want to offend one side or another on
a controversial issue. It is a fact that has
become obscured by all the bluster and
rhetoric coming from people who have a whole
lot at stake, and who have come to see their
opponents as their enemies.
I have good
friends who have made great sacrifices
opposing the plant, and who will lose much of
what they have worked for all their lives if
it goes through.
I am from the
Bonanza area, and I have lived next door to an
I have watched
the eagles hunt in that little draw, now full
of survey stakes, where a guy named Roscoe
raised his dry-land rye. I assure you that the
presence of the power plant will damage
Langell Valley in ways that are real and deep.
On the other
hand, I have good friends who have dedicated a
substantial chunk of their lives in recent
years to making the power plant happen, and
who would suffer both personal and
professional loss if it did not go through.
The many needs of our communities are both
real and pressing, and it seems certain that
there will be more money floating around for
local business, government and schools if the
project proceeds as planned.
I should mention,
while I'm at it, that I have no friends at all
at Peoples Energy. I will be very honest and
tell you that I don't give a hoot whether
Peoples Energy is helped or harmed by how this
situation ultimately gets worked out. In fact
I'd go so far as to say that Peoples Energy
could suffer a great deal of harm before it
would start to bother me in the least.
Its job is to
make money, not make our lives better here in
the Klamath Basin. If our lives happen to get
better as a result of the company's making
money, then company officials don't have any
problem with that. But we should keep in mind,
as we have learned before, that if they stop
making money they will not hesitate to take
the good things away again.
To my mind, there
are two critical questions we need to ask
ourselves, with the Cob power plant or with
any other economic development prospect:
First, what is
the company's long-term commitment to this
community? I'm not talking about the money
here. The more important question is how
directly do the company's Klamath Basin
operations impact the real decision-makers
within the company? In other words, if the
plant is ugly and stinky, do the executives
and shareholders have to see it and smell it?
Our own homegrown company, Jeld-Wen, can serve
as a standard in this respect. This is its
owners' home, so they treat it right.
Second, does the
operation contribute to the long-term
self-sufficiency of Klamath Basin communities,
or does it make us more dependent on outside
capital, management and market fluctuations?
Does it help us
keep our future in our own hands, or does it
make it more likely that our future will end
up as an agenda item at some distant meeting
full of people who don't know us, our
communities or our landscapes?
fundamental to learn
I'm not going to
speculate here about how the Cob project would
fare in light of these two questions. In part
this is because I don't think I can expect to
influence the outcome in any way. But it's
also because I believe there is a more
fundamental and important lesson we can learn
from this whole situation.
Someone once told
me that "If you don't figure out what you
want, then you end up taking whatever you can
happened to be an international expert in
strategic economic development, and he
happened to be talking at the time about rural
economies in the western United States.
This place where
we live is one of the most astoundingly
beautiful and productive landscapes on the
planet. People travel across continents to see
our farms and ranches and wild areas. And the
food we grow is carried hot to tables all
around the world. We are creative, we are
energetic, we are talented, we are persistent,
and we can make our future whatever we want it
We should talk
more openly and more often about what we want
our future to be. We should decide what's most
important to us, and say it out loud, over and
over again, so that we can tell right away,
before all the expense and heartache, if some
out-of-town idea is really what's best for us.
I don't know,
maybe large-scale industrial development is
all this place is good for. Maybe this power
plant will be the best thing for us and for
future generations. But part of me can't help
feeling like we're "taking whatever we can
get." Part of me just feels like we can do so
much better than that.
Mike Connelly, a
former rancher, is a writer and director for a
non-profit foundation in Klamath Falls.