A recent story by Emily Lambert in Forbes titled Nimby Wars caught my eye while doing some dead tree reading. (I confess; I have subscriptions to a fairly large number of print publications and sometimes leave my computer screen to read them.)
The story is about an experienced political operative with the misnomer of Mike Saint who runs a company called Saint Consulting that sells his expertise, and probably access to his rolodex, to the highest bidder. Again, I have to remind people that I am not opposed to private enterprise and to making money, but I am terribly offended by those who believe that “it’s just business” sanctions an anything goes mentality that ignores the importance of integrity and straight dealing.
Saint Consulting uses techniques from public relations, political organizing, and military deception campaigns to win victories for his clients. The services are for sale to anyone – no matter which side of a project they are on. In fact, from what I learned from the article, Saint Consulting sometimes starts the entire conflict just to try and capture some fees when people determine that their “interests” might be affected by the actions of their neighbors. After reading the article, I would not be surprised to find evidence that the company has fought certain battles on both sides, collecting fees for both support and opposition to a project.
Nimby Wars describes feel good campaigns designed to gain support for a large wind farm and a major new oil refinery, but it also mentions that half of the company’s revenues come from organizing opposition to new infrastructure projects that is secretly instigated by competitors or people who believe that their economic interests will be harmed by the new project.
Saint is currently waging 135 skirmishes in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Half its clients need help essentially to squelch a competitor’s project–a supermarket chain, say, wants to keep a big box out of town. For obvious reasons clients insist on anonymity. So Saint goes “undercover,” riling up neighbors, turning them against a group or company, quietly offering legal advice, as well as tips on how to organize and turn up political pressure. Fox says some neighbors are suspicious that he’s an enemy plant, though he tells them, “I’m here to help you. I do this across the country.” Funds to pay, say, a traffic expert are sometimes handled through attorneys so they can’t be traced back to Saint or its client. Fox encourages neighbors to hold fundraisers, which further disguises Saint’s fingerprints; often its agents use fake names.
This is certainly not a smoking gun, because there is no mention that Saint is working to keep nuclear power plant projects from competing with coal, oil, gas or alternative energy providers. It is, however, a useful piece of information about the menu of deceptive tactics that is available and may be employed to battle against clean, reliable, safe atomic fission projects that threaten established power suppliers.
P. S. Here is a link to a an alliance of counties that are doing NIMBY in reverse – they are working together to establish a site which they intend to use to attract a nuclear fuel recycling facility that will help them continue on their path of being a region that can supply full nuclear fuel cycle services. My hope is that they would tell carpetbaggers like Saint Consulting to pack sand if they try to get involved in the process.
Update posted Feb 2, 2009 at 0720: Dan Yurman over at Idaho Samizdat recently posted a detailed NIMBY related article with a somewhat different take on some of the activities of Saint Consulting. One of his conclusions is that Americans tend to be conflicted about development. They like low prices, but dislike Wal-Mart. They like their own jobs, but fight developments that might provide new jobs and increase traffic congestion. They like convenient shopping, but want malls to be built somewhere else. When their cell phones or electrical wiring does not work, they get riled up, but they also fight new cell towers and transmission lines.
Of course, as the above indicates, sometimes the reason that the opposition can get strong is that there are people whose livelihoods is tied up in generating controversy.