Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Will Salazar's Home Turf Get Some Solar-Powered Pork?

Southern Colorado's San Luis Valley seems like a suitable spot for solar power facilities. It's sunny most days. It's flat. It's relatively uncrowded. The federal government has some significant land holdings there. Thus, it makes sense that the valley would be among the locales the Interior Department is considering for the fast-tracking of such projects, as was reported in today's Denver Business Journal.

But the San Luis Valley also happens to be the home turf of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former attorney general and senator from Colorado. His family owns land there. It's part of his brother's congressional district. And the economy isn't exactly booming. This raises the possibility that the valley could get an unfair leg up on the competition -- if it hasn't gotten one already -- should Salazar decide to toss it a little solar power pork.

That means Interior had better be very scrupulous and transparent about how these siting decisions are made, and permits are handed out, lest it appear that Salazar is using his office to do special favors for the home crowd.

The Western landscape seems ideally suited for such projects. There's still plenty of space; federal holdings are vast; and most states in the region, including Colorado, are falling all over themselves trying to jump on the "clean energy" bandwagon. But the prospect that this process will devolve into just another pork-barrel pig out seems real enough, seeing as how Salazar made this announcement while standing beside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who will undoubtedly be pulling strings to see that Nevada lands "its fair share" (and then some) of the projects.

Members of the legislative branch are justifiable renowned for "earmarking" federal dollars for pet projects. But high-ranking members of the executive branch are well-positioned to do the same, if they have the opportunity and inclination. I wouldn't mind seeing the San Luis Valley get in on the action, if the process is honest. But the process will have to be watched closely to ensure that's the case.

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