Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies

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The Daily Sentinel’s thoughtful editorial (“Time to get creative with cultural amenities”) and Mesa County Commissioner John Justman’s predictable op-ed column (“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”) aptly illustrates the schizophrenia that pervades what passes for local “conservative” thought.

To paraphrase Justman, free-market conservatism “has become a religion”.  So much of its knee-jerk opposition to sensible “rules, regulations, and mandates” crafted to protect our air, water, and environment “stem from emotional ideologies with little or no basis in reality”.  In fact, the reality is that such governmental initiatives are necessitated by the failure of the profit-driven “free market” to adequately mitigate the problems it causes.

Justman’s example of the Grand Valley Transit Authority – which would not exist without both federal grants and governmental support – illustrates his confusion.  Yes, it “makes sense” – to exploit the local availability of cheap natural gas to reduce harmful diesel emissions, but “free market policies” did not “aid Mesa County”, governmental subsidies did.

So, “let’s [NOT] slow down; let’s be rational.  Let’s learn from Europe’s mistakes” and from our own local experience.  Being truly “rational” means harnessing cheap wind and solar energy in areas with fewer clouds and more sun/reliable wind than northern Europe – even if that means redirecting subsidies from oil and gas to those cleaner alternatives and mandating that rural electric cooperatives achieve renewable energy requirements.

Rationally, that also means un-begrudgingly admitting that much of our local economy depends on non-profit and not-for-profit endeavors which make available both medical care and health insurance that the “free market” would not by itself provide.

Thus, like it or not – as both the Daily Sentinel and Hillary Clinton suggest – “it takes a village” working cooperatively with its government to generate recognize “the economic benefits of cultural amenities” and/or to incentivize private enterprise to develop them.

Apparently, John Justman’s notion of “Think global. Act local” (“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”, Sep. 1, 2013) includes permitting the heavily subsidized oil and gas industry to consume and/or despoil the unique “cultural amenities” (“Time to get creative with cultural amenities”, Sep. 1, 2013) along the pastoral byways of East Orchard Mesa and Palisade.  Thus, readers should wonder whether Justman would be so cavalier about a continuous procession of heavy trucks through his own agricultural property near Fruita. 

Similarly, while Justman is wary of imaginary “unintended consequences” of subsidizing renewable energy sources, he remains blithely unconcerned about the actual and proven “consequences” of over-reliance on fossil fuels.  Impliedly, Justman would have Mesa County return to the “boom and bust” days – when our local economy was dependent on “oil shale” and now languishes when the price of local natural gas is too low to induce the “free-market” to develop it – and dismisses global climate change as a socialist myth.

In reality, Justman religiously endorses the same short-sighted policies responsible for “our national debt zooming toward $17 trillion and ongoing economic malaise”.  Reagan tripled the national debt; George Bush doubled it again—leaving President Obama with two un-budgeted wars and an economic collapse.

One piece of common sense with which Justman should be familiar is that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – which (because 16 ounces make a pound) means that preventative “rules, regulations, and mandates” are justified when their costs are less than 6.25% of the expense of remediating the anticipated (even if probabilistic) damage.

Thus, readers should ask:  what is it worth to avoid the consequences of the Grand Valley falling into non-compliance with breathable air standards?  And, what is it worth to preserve local orchards’ tourist-attracting beauty and hard-earned reputation for quality?

Natural Gas is glutted as a consumer commodity, and the natural gas lobby—led by COGA and championed by GOP stalwarts, including then-Senate GOP leader Josh Penry along with some conservation groups pushed for transitioning power plants in CO from coal to Nat Gas, which is (see above) glutted on the market and thus plentiful and cheaper than coal—especially when you consider things like dirty air which costs both people and business money. Market mechanism #1: externalities make NatGas a cheaper source of power than coal; Market mechanism #2:  glutted NatGas supply forces consumer (powerplant) response.

Mr. Justman believes in the free market but since 1995 he has applied for and received $180,000 in agriculture subsidies from the Federal Government.

Apparently, my previous on-line comments regarding Mesa County Commissioner John Justman’s recent op-ed piece—“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”, Sep. 1, 2013) – mistakenly characterized his predictable “conservative” tripe as evincing “schizophrenia”.  Outright “hypocrisy” is more apt.

As Doug Hovde reports, since 1995, Justman has received “$180,000 in agricultural subsidies from the federal government”.  Thus, his column might better have been titled “Farm subsidies – not free-market policies – aid John Justman (if not Mesa County)”.

That title would also be entirely consistent with his conduct as former Chairman of the Mesa County Planning Commission, when he ignored “conflict of interest” strictures by advocating and voting for changes to our Land Use Code which enhanced the potential market value of his agricultural property near Fruita (held “in trust” in his wife’s name).

Thus, while Justman professes religious devotion to the “free-market” and disdain for “green energy subsidies”, he fully embraces both agricultural and oil & gas subsidies.

Justman’s apparent addiction to farm subsidies is revealing.  In July, the Governmental Accountability Office (“GAO”) released a report criticizing subsidy payments to—and failure to recoup them from—deceased farmers.  In August, the GAO recommended more stringent audits of farmers claiming income-eligibility for subsidies.

In response, after the Senate voted to cap eligibility at $250,000 of “average adjusted farm income”, and Congressman Scott Tipton and his cronies on the House Agricultural Committee (several of whom, like Justman, receive direct farm subsidy payments) voted initially to increase that limit to $750,000, they then voted to eliminate any income test whatsoever (while at the same time de-funding the entire Food Stamp program). 

Thus, rather than rely on the “free-market”, Justman and his like-minded Repugnicans prefer to subsidize already profitable corporate and individual farmers, rather than help smaller, less-profitable farmers achieve “free-market” success.

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