Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dam Republicans

Though not national news, an interesting argument arose from the public comments and hearing for the removal of the Paint Creek Dam in Oakland Township, Michigan. I'll get to the argument in a moment, but first, a little background.

The decision to remove the dam had come after the Clinton River Watershed Council had received a $700,000 federal grant to study the dam’s impact and possibly remove the dam. According to the Patch,

"Because it[, the Clinton River Watershed Council,] had a federal grant, it decided it would be in the best interest to the township to move ahead with the operation at no cost for the purpose of improving the riparian and aquatic habitat[, which includes the only designated trout stream in the county]."
The Patch further explains that supporters claimed removal of the dam and filling of the adjacent 100-year floodplain would improve aquatic and riparian habitat, while those opposing the project were concerned about the project changing historical character of the area.

Now, back to the interesting argument. The Oakland Township Patch reported,

"The dam removal project would be paid for by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Some iexpressed uneasiness about spending money the U.S. government "doesn’t have” and argued that all grants should be refused to help keep the nation’s deficit down. (sic)"
This is an interesting outgrowth of the Congressional Republicans push to cut federal spending on pretty much everything while refusing to consider revenue increases. Interesting why? Because 1) the Council already had access to the funds and 2) it is likely to save the Township money in the long-run.

On 1), the Council had obtained the funding with dam removal in mind as an option. The federal government had already agreed to provide the funding. If the money had not been used, it would have likely been used to fund another project, or perhaps gone to the general fund then been designated to another project. My point here is that the money was going to be used on a project someplace, so it is better that the money be used in a way that was already determined to be a good use of federal funding. It isn't as if the federal government would have used it to pay off the debt and it doesn't have a savings account to put the money in. It has to be spent.

On 2), it seems that some believe that short-term spending should be avoided when it yields long-term benefits. At the very least, it seems pretty typical of spending cut arguments I have seen. I imagine the thought process goes something like this: Should we spend money now to mitigate the damage of future natural disasters? No, we may not have to spend as much money in the future. Should we spend money now to help those who have had their communities devastated by a floods, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires? No, that would prevent the local economies from quickly recovering and it may put some people to work while the economy is stagnant. Should we adamantly fight to keep taxes low for people who have more than enough money? Of course, we need those people to make and keep more money so that they can ... have lots of money.

Larger political issues aside, the emergence of this argument at the local level is a bit disconcerting considering there are a great deal of climate adaptation projects that are needed to help the country deal with the problems associated with ever-escalating climate change.

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