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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Weld Emperor's Clothes Are Made of Uranium

Being relatively new to the area, the uranium mine issue just came on my radar when I read about it in the Denver Post yesterday. It is in the Greeley Tribune today. I am way behind on the specific issue here in Weld county and it looks like there is little but massive public outcry that could stop it now. The planning commissions are holding the hands of the industrialists through the public comment period. That's how it works in most every town. The planning commissioners tend to be the puppets of the main power interests and politicians. That's nothing new.

My guess is the planners knew what size project they could get through without the public squawking too much to prevent it--then planned on expanding the project at a later date when the public thought since the first battle was lost there is no point in rehashing the expansion. Plus, depending on Colorado law, the feasibility study requirements and expenses may be lowered if the company approaches this in stages.

So I think my own focus will be on where the local power brokers are taking their good citizens of Weld county in the future. Are they seriously calculating the long term investment returns on the decision to hype mega-industrialization over general local business development? Did they do the real homework on the uranium mine or did they just take the numbers crunched by the profiteers of the project and read the key points in the study?

Using only short-term thinking when making policy and strategic decisions limits or even kills future possibilities and options for the community. This short-sightedness skews the math and it dupes people into thinking that jobs and taxes are the only way to improve quality of life. But it can get people reelected to office as long as no one else can do the long term visioning or the math involved either.

This "Would-you-like-some-candy-little-girl" approach can easily lead to diminished returns for Weld, Greeley specifically, in the long term. But by the time the general public notices, that the people who told them their wallets would be fat, never bothered to discuss that the general quality of life for most of the public would suffer a gradual degradation and decline in the quality of life over the next generations it is all a done deal. Except for the profiteers of the moment of course. The profiteers of such manipulation generally reap the greatest wealth benefit and can pack up and move at the first sign of discomfort plus still reap their investment gains from outside the area. Basically they are mobile and wealthy enough to avoid the consequences of bad long term decision making.

The duty, I think, is to be watchful and make sure your officials are asking the right questions and hiring objective consultants rather than having the lobbyists and stock portfoliosts over to dinner. In my book that is the job of every citizen. Ask the hard unpopular questions or find someone to ask them for you. Accountability shouldn't be an after thought. We've all learned that the hard way over the last few decades. Time to make it happen at home.

*The posting below is an economics paper presented in June of 2003 on the factors that go into fully evaluating a situation like the uranium project by incorporating in what many profiteers will tell public officials can't be represented in a real math equation--those uncomfortable hard to measure externalities that produce a higher quality of life.

Discounting in environmental economic models
A model of discounting and environmental quality

There are three essential functions of the environment for economic activity (Smulders, 1994). First, the environment has amenity value so that it should enter the utility function. Second, it has a productive value so that it enters the production function. Third, environmental quality affects the regeneration capacity of the environment and the functioning of life-support systems. A viable economy must keep the environmental quality above some critical level.

The conventional economic indicators such as the growth rate of GDP do not reflect the depletion and degradation of the environment. Using conventional economic indictors for evaluating projects may lead to incorrect decisions. Cost-benefit analysis that does not include the values that people place on the environment may yield poor decisions for projects with an environmental impact. Therefore a formal model of discounting should explicitly account for environmental values.

We propose a model where environmental quality enters the utility function. This leads us to reconsider the relationship between the utility discount rate and the consumption discount rate. Utility is a measure of the satisfaction of preference of the consumer. In the analysis of section 2, utility is a function only of consumption. Nevertheless we do place values on biodiversity, wilderness and human health etc, which are influenced by environmental quality. Therefore the preference satisfaction of a consumer is also dependent on environmental quality. Then the utility function should have environmental quality as an additional argument.

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