Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Lake Powell Pipeline: Delivering A Less Than Desirable Future
I find telemarketing annoying not only because it’s an uninvited interruption, but because someone’s trying to sell me something I don’t really need. About the only thing that could be more annoying is if telemarketing calls were collect and I had to accept the charges.
Well, that’s pretty much analogous to what the Washington County Water Conservancy District is up to these days. They won’t be dialing your number, but they have hired Vanguard Media Group to sell you something you don’t really need—the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline—and Vanguard’s fees will be covered by lifting tax revenue from your wallet.
If you think about it, just the fact that the District has determined that an expensive spin campaign is necessary speaks volumes about how unnecessary the Lake Powell Pipeline must be.
A little math is even more convincing. State water officials calculate that Washington County has enough water to provide for a population of at least 270,000 without the pipeline. That’s more than double the current population of 130,000. And despite the local District’s use of scare tactics in asserting it’s needed much sooner, State planners say the pipeline isn’t needed until around 2023.
But even the State’s pro-pipeline spin should be seriously questioned. The projections are based on 2005 per-capita water use. Consumption rates are already trending down and will certainly be significantly reduced by new technologies and rate incentives in coming years. If you think I’m overly optimistic, consider the fact that current per-capita consumption rates in most communities in the southwestern United States are significantly lower than Washington County’s. Several communities—Albuquerque and Tucson for example—have per-capita use rates half ours, serving the same number of people using half the water. If already proven levels of efficiency are achieved, Washington County can support 500,000 residents without the pipeline—a population we won’t reach until around 2040.
I don’t point out this per-capita use discrepancy to disparage anyone. The District has done well in providing Washington County with a more than adequate supply of water and therefore efficiency hasn’t been a high priority. But if 30 years rolls by and they haven’t figured out how to apply tomorrow’s technologies to match what other comparable communities are already doing with today’s technologies, somebody’s going to have some real explaining to do. And I don’t think it will be very satisfying to hear that it was a lot more fun building billion dollar engineering monuments in the desert than applying relatively cheap and unglamorous technologies to make our water system at least as efficient as what others achieved 30 years previously.
If you’ve already heard the marketing spin that the pipeline would “only” cost around $500 million, you might think I’m exaggerating to describe it as a billion dollar project. I’m not. Pro-pipeline spin-doctors conveniently neglect to disclose that cash required for construction would be raised through interest bearing State bonds. The State estimates more than $500 million in interest would be paid out, pushing the real cost past the $1 billion threshold. To repay this loan from the State, everyone in Washington County would pay more for water. And new home prices would soar ever higher as impact fees are significantly increased over time. The resulting increase in new home prices would be a double-whammy—many would not be able to afford homes and property taxes for everyone would be lifted up by inflated property values.
So what kind of future would a Lake Powell Pipeline deliver? To help you visualize it, the current population of Utah County is less than 500,000. Imagine Washington County with more congestion and sprawl than exists today in the Draper-Orem-Provo-Springville-Spanish Fork corridor. That’s without the pipeline. With the pipeline we could pack in another 285,000 residents. That total population of 785,000 would put us at about 80% of the congestion, sprawl and smog that exists today in Salt Lake County.
That’s a future that’s both unnecessary and undesirable. It’s bad enough we already have enough water available to become Utah County. Let’s not spend a billion dollars to build a pipeline that transforms Washington County into Salt Lake County and in the process destroys everything we love about southern Utah.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Violence In America Is Shocking But Not Surprising
It’s impossible to find words that adequately describe something as evil and dispiriting as the recent Virginia Tech massacre. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger was one of many who acknowledged this inadequacy when he stated, “I am really at a loss to explain or understand the carnage that has visited our campus.”
As inadequate as they are, many words have been appropriately used to describe such public massacres—words like unthinkable, tragic, horrific, evil and shocking. But one word that should not be used to describe these tragedies is the word “surprising.” If anyone is surprised, they haven’t been paying attention to the forces of violence, alienation and selfishness that have become all too common in this generation of American culture.
One thing that is surprising about this most recent spate of public violence is how quickly public outrage has dissipated. It’s partly because public shootings are sadly no longer a novelty, but also because our representatives in Washington almost universally decided to stick their heads in the sand, refusing to engage in a discussion of the broader issues exposed by the massacre. It’s true that mass murders of this type are easy to dismiss as the random, unavoidable acts of sick and evil individuals. But those who have been elected to lead should recognize that mass murders represent just the visible tip of a very deep iceberg of violence. Every year, around 25,000 Americans die at the point of a gun. By way of comparison, it’s disheartening to all of us—and outrageous to many—that more than 3,300 American lives have been lost in the Iraq War in the last four years. But where’s the outrage that more than 100,000 Americans have been shot dead right here in America in the same time period?
Perhaps politicians on both the left and right are more willing to express outrage at American lives lost in distant lands than lives lost at home because both political parties have contributed to the development of this culture of violence. It’s hard to imagine a more combustible culture than one in which the ACLU, Hollywood and the liberal-left insist that grotesque expressions of violence in movies, TV shows, music and video games are manifestations of free speech that cannot be restricted, while on the other hand, the National Rifle Association and the doctrinaire-right insist that frighteningly powerful automatic weapons should be available to every member of American society.
It’s true that violent people will emerge from any culture. But why in the world would we provide those with a predisposition to violence with fuel to stoke their evil intentions and powerful firearms to carry them out?
Of course many of our political leaders have a ready answer to that question. They claim it’s the price of freedom. I disagree. I think it’s the price we pay for electing politicians who are overly concerned with ideology. Ideologues in both parties seem to be more interested in promoting their black and white political ideologies than in dealing with the world of gray we actually live in.
I’m not naïve enough to think there are any easy solutions to this problem. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Would concessions from the left to reasonably restrict the availability of violence in media and concessions from the right to reasonably restrict the availability of absurdly powerful firearms make a difference? I don’t know. But I do know that if our leaders stick their heads in the sand and ignore the root causes of violence in America nothing will change—25,000 Americans will die from gunfire in the next year and it won’t be long before we are mourning the victims of another massacre. And until our leaders in Washington decide that violence on that scale is embarrassing and unacceptable, you should be prepared to be shocked—but not surprised.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Giuliani Hates Abortion - But Not Enough To Win
You’ve got to hand it to Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani when it comes to his ability to stay on message. His response to the abortion question in the recent MSNBC-sponsored Republican presidential debate is a good example. In the debate Giuliani repeated the two primary points he always manages to make concerning his position on abortion:
“In my case, I hate abortion…..but ultimately, because it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman’s right to make a different choice.”
Mr. Giuliani’s honesty and consistency on this topic are admirable but will almost certainly cost him the Republican nomination. Encouraged by early polls, many Giuliani supporters believe otherwise, contending that his strength on other issues important to Republicans will outweigh the fact that he is at odds with the Republican base on abortion. But early polls always reflect an incomplete understanding of any candidate’s position on the full range of issues and as word continues to filter out about Giuliani’s position on abortion, Republican voters will predictably drift away. To believe otherwise is an indulgence in wishful thinking that represents a deep misunderstanding of why most Republicans are against abortion.
Simply put, most of us who oppose abortion do so because we believe an abortion is either a clear-cut case of taking a human life, or a close enough cousin to the taking of a human life to merit the same level of opposition. That’s why Mr. Giuliani’s position on abortion is so unacceptable to most members of the pro-life community. To us, it’s the equivalent of saying, “I hate it when someone takes another person’s life, but ultimately homicide is a matter of personal conscience and I would respect their decision.”
If you are pro-abortion, you will certainly find that analogy inflammatory and overboard. But it’s an accurate reflection of the depth of conviction and despair felt by most pro-lifers. To us it seems like we’re living in an upside down world where it’s acceptable to enact and enforce thousands of laws that prevent people from following their personal conscience on things as mundane as how fast they can drive a car and yet it’s unacceptable to enact any law that would prevent any person from following their personal conscience in determining whether or not a human fetus lives or dies.
This depth of conviction explains why it’s highly unlikely Giuliani’s political assets will outweigh this one glaring liability. Relatively speaking, when it comes to issues of life and death, nothing comes close to the overwhelming impact of abortion. To put it in perspective, in the first four years of the current conflict in Iraq, weapons of war terminated 3,300 American lives. In that same four year period, instruments of abortion terminated more than 4 million American embryos. Even more dramatically, the total number of American war casualties in the entire 230 year history of our nation is less than the current average of 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States each and every year. A mind-numbing total of more than 40 million embryos have been terminated by abortion since the Supreme Court voided all state restrictions on abortion in 1973. If you are pro-life and believe that abortion is a life and death issue, no other life and death issue is even in the same ballpark.
That’s why it’s extremely unlikely Giuliani will get the Republican nomination. There are other Republicans in the presidential race who are not very far behind Giuliani on the issues that are his greatest strengths and are light-years ahead of him on what many Republicans consider the most important issue of all. I don’t doubt that Giuliani really hates abortion. But when pro-life Republicans are fully informed about his “hate but tolerate” position on this issue he is likely to find out that he doesn’t hate abortion enough to win.