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New Frontiers in NIMBY

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Hoo boy, this is a complex one.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A proposal to build one of the country’s largest wind farms in Idaho is drawing opposition from Japanese Americans. About 400 turbines would be near a World War II incarceration site. Rachel Cohen from Boise State Public Radio reports.

KURT IKEDA: We’re currently standing in block 22.

RACHEL COHEN, BYLINE: Kurt Ikeda leads visitors inside an old barrack at the Minidoka National Historic Site near Twin Falls, Idaho.

IKEDA: There’s a bit of laundry and latrine over there. The bathrooms were not ready until December of 1943.

COHEN: Thirteen thousand Japanese Americans were imprisoned here over three years during World War II. The National Park Service has maintained Minidoka since 2001. Ikeda is a park ranger. His grandfather was incarcerated at a different site in Texas.

IKEDA: The only difference between Minidoka and where my grandfather was incarcerated is that it’s not protected. It’s not preserved. Crystal City is now a high school.

COHEN: He feels it’s his role to protect what’s left at Minidoka. Many Japanese Americans nationwide say the proposed wind farm on nearby federal public land threatens that. The Biden administration has set big goals for renewable energy. This project, called Lava Ridge, would help the transition away from fossil fuels to prevent the worst effects from climate change. The wind turbines could power more than 300,000 homes. Erin Shigaki is on board with Biden’s goals.

ERIN SHIGAKI: And at the same time, he made promises to communities of color relating to environmental justice.

COHEN: Shigaki is a fourth-generation, or Yonsei, Japanese American. Many of her relatives were incarcerated at Minidoka. She’s fighting the wind farm. She says it would change the experience of going to the historic site. It’s meant to evoke a sense of loneliness.

Ok…..I’ve been to Minidoka. It’s isolated, but it isn’t that isolated. It’s not far at all from Burley, which is a fairly large town and there is a ton of agriculture all along the Snake River, which you can see from Minidoka. So it’s not as if this is some kind of lonely site way out in the middle of nowhere. Second, the turbines would be 9 miles away! I mean, I am sorry, but that is plenty of space. We are talking about turbines on hills, not putting them in the middle of the site.

But quite frankly, this is also a strong damning of modern identity politics. Do we as progressives allow the Japanese-American community to veto a project that we really need just because of the turbines being 9 miles from the site? We can probably all agree that the community needs to have a lot of say over the site, but how far does that extend? What is the proper use of that identitarian authority here? I will also note that this principle could extend to stop effectively any development project out there.

So in conclusion, I am very glad I don’t have to work on this issue. It’s a very tricky one. But this is also just a new form of Nimbyism.

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