It is obvious that this region needs jobs. It is also obvious that the loss of revenue due to the closing of the NRG power plant and a decision not to rebuild as a natural gas fired facility would have a major negative economic impact on the area.
But should these two factors be the justification for the project? Often, decisions like this are made for the wrong reasons. Let's look at a few examples.
Over the last two years, the taxpayers of this country have spent over $400 million for Abrams Army tanks that the Army says they don't want or need. Why are we continuing production? Because the Congressional representatives from the districts where the tanks and their components are made lobbied the rest of congress to ignore the plans and needs of the Defense Department. And why did they do this? Because the loss of that production would have a negative impact on the economies of those districts. But is that really the right justification for the decision?
Also, this year Congress rejected a request by the Pentagon to consider more military base closings even though the military says they don't want or need all the bases they have. Why are we spending this money in this way when the Defense Department says the money should be used for programs they do need? Political lobbying by those in congress whose districts would be hurt economically by these actions.
These are just two examples of the wrong decisions being made and actions taken for an unrelated influencing factor. As the late conservative economist Milton Friedman stated in his essay Why Government is the Problem, "The general rule is that government undertakes an activity that seems desirable at the time. Once the activity begins, whether it proves desirable or not, people in both government and the private sector acquire a vested interest in it. If the initial reason for undertaking the activity disappears, they have a strong incentive to find another justification for its continued existence." Are we promoting the same action here? I am not suggesting that the NRG proposal is the wrong option, but I am suggesting that the ultimate decision should be made based on full knowledge and facts and for the right technical reasons.
It can be argued this is not a government enterprise and therefore the circumstances are different. Yes, but it is part of a government-regulated industry and a government entity will make the final decision.
It can also be argued that our representative's job is to lobby for our local benefit and they are doing that. But shouldn't they also be planning for the possible loss of this project? As with the two issues I mentioned, it seems that at the federal and state levels, we should have some economic transition plans to aid local economies negatively impacted by government decisions.
At the federal level, we have assistance for jobs lost due to foreign competition. Shouldn't we have similar programs for jobs lost and tax revenue lost due to government actions? Continuing programs or initiating activities that are not needed are not reasonable actions.
Rod Rogers is a county legislator from Forestville.