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Not In My Back Yard!

A person who lives on a river will oppose construction of a power plant upstream from him, regardless of how much scientific evidence shows that there will be no pollution.

Public officials usually have a good instinct for survival. They are acutely aware that a public official who annoys enough people will be voted out of office, and one who really infuriates a smaller number will have made devoted enemies. They need the “political cover” of visible public support for a controversial project – even one that is patently beneficial – before they will approve it in the face of organized citizen opposition. If a contentious development proposal is to win the approval of political decision makers in today’s “Not in my Back Yard” America, the developer must understand the politics and figure out what he has to do to get a majority of the board to vote approval. Then, he must identify, educate, recruit and mobilize supporters. That is, he must run a political campaign. Land use proposals affect peoples’ perceptions – and in politics, perception is reality. A person who lives on a river will oppose construction of a power plant upstream from him, regardless of how much scientific evidence shows that there will be no pollution. His perception of the potential danger is real, and it is irrelevant whether his perception reflects an objective truth. He believes it and thus acts accordingly; that’s what counts. american coal council

Land use decisions are essentially political decisions and are, therefore, subject to the same rules of play that control political campaigns for office and ballot questions The point is that in land use politics, as in most else, everyone has an agenda. Even the pure of heart who don’t realize they have agendas actually do, because it’s human nature to think about how a given proposal will affect you, your friends and your community. Some agendas are easily spotted and straightforward. But others may not be so clear, and it falls to the project proponent to figure out what a given person or group’s real agenda may be, and to act accordingly. Land use decisions are essentially political decisions and are, therefore, subject to the same rules of play that control political campaigns for office and ballot questions: plan a campaign, devise strategy, identify leaders, organize field troops, anticipate opposition tactics and plan countermeasures, execute the campaign program, and get out the vote effectively to win.

Recognizing the opponent’s motivation as political, rather than simply religious, moral, or environmental, for example, is essential to mount an effective political strategy. If the opponent’s motivations are perceived as religious, civic or moral, they may well be unassailable at those levels. If the real motives are political, the debate is no longer about “right” and “wrong” but about how the issue affects the community. At that level, campaign tactics will work. The winner of this debate will be the side that is best organized, and devises and executes the most compelling political campaign. Those who fear adverse consequences from development are reacting emotionally, and they quickly become passionate in their opposition and convert that passion into political action. The challenge for an energy plant or any big project is that most people who might be in favor are not so rabid in their support 29

Profile for American Coal Council

American Coal Issue 1 2010  

American Coal Issue 1 2010  

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