Powerline Protest Politics / Health Effects

The following editorial was printed in the Fitchburg Star newspaper on June 1st, 2006. As it is not available on the internet, the editor/author Kurt Gutknecht has okayed our sharing it here.

The following editorial was printed in the Fitchburg Star newspaper on June 1st, 2006. As it is not available on the internet, the editor/author Kurt Gutknecht has okayed our sharing it here.

Why not monitoring?

Let the kabuki dance begin. One of the three routes proposed by American Transmission Company comes through Fitchburg. It’s time for affected communities to claim that the line should go through another community.

This serves ATC’s interests because it diverts attention from the real issue, which is why we have ceded control of our electrical infrastructure to firms that reap enormous profits no matter what route is selected.

With a guaranteed profit and millions to spend, ATC can slather money in every direction. It’s surprising how effective this is.

Jane Anne Morris is absolutely right. Focusing on the regulatory process is a diversion. It will be NIMBYism writ large, albeit with enough breathless media attention and trappings of substance to make it seem as if real choices have been made.

It’s a toothless farce. It will enrich lawyers and experts.

Meanwhile, everyone continues to ignore the devastating consequences of our outdated system of distributing electricity.

Watching how farmers have tried for almost 30 years to call attention to this shoddy and dangerous system – they repeatedly pleaded with anyone at the PSC, the university and state agencies for help, to no avail – indicated that the political, regulatory and legislative process is so corrupt as to be worthless.

And it’s surprising how little people care when this happens to someone else. As a point of clarification, farmers are just like us, save that they saw how they became ill in synchrony with their cows, which are more susceptible than humans. Farmers – your neighbors, human beings — were asking (and often begging) for someone to protect their lives as well as their livelihoods, which happened to involve livestock. We don’t have such sentinel species to illustrate the presence of electrical pollution.

The unusual ailments that affected cows have their counterparts in human health, if anyone bothered to investigate.

The conditions that made farm families sick are usually much worse in urban areas.

The lonely battle of these families makes me doubt the sincerity of those who are now supposedly so interested in protecting agriculture. If a group of yuppies made similar complaints, society would certainly pay attention, as it (reluctantly) has in attempting to find the causes of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, whose symptoms are remarkably similar to those associated with electrical sensitivity.

No wonder farmers think urbanites care mostly about guarding the scenery.

The premise that our government permits the slow electrocution of a significant portion of the population is too much for most people to accept, even in the Madison area where we quaff radical-lite with our coffee. Most people think, as I once did, that it’s a positively goofy idea.

The chattering classes of all stripes never bothered to find out what was happening in the hinterlands because the “experts” said it was nothing to worry about, that these were just farms with poor wiring and some people with cockamamie theories.

It took me a long, long time to learn and accept what was really occurring. Of course, I had the luxury of working with researchers with impeccable credentials, including a few PhDs. They also used equipment that was often more sophisticated and accurate than that employed by the utilities and researchers.

I think I’ve heard every argument the utilities and their cronies use to justify the dumping of electricity into the environment. Electricity, in all its various forms, is a pollutant just like toxic chemicals. The difference is that no one measures it. And if you do, there are all sorts of people go to extraordinary lengths to tell you it really doesn’t mean anything.

The UW provides convenient justification for this state of affairs, based in large part on a researcher who has found that exposing cows to electricity for a few seconds over a few days doesn’t kill them or make them sick. (Even those results are questionable.)

This research is the scientific foundation for the continuation of the practice. I kid you not. Meanwhile, electricity dumped in the environment courses through our bodies day after day, year after year –odorless and invisible and usually at such an extremely low voltage that we don’t notice until it’s too late. Most of us never figure it out.

All sorts of experts will tell you not to worry, in language that’s usually indecipherable.

The truth is actually pretty simple to determine.

Let Fitchburg residents continuously monitor these electrical phenomena, using the same instruments used by the utilities. There are practical and inexpensive methods of doing so. Let people decide for themselves whether they want a high-voltage transmission line bringing in even more electrical pollution.

Of course, no utility, university researcher or government employee will monitor this for you. If they did, it would be foolish to trust the results, given their track record. And they will advance all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t, which boil down to the premise that these are harmless phenomena and that you aren’t smart enough to interpret what they mean. Their concern about your lack of intellectual acuity is positively touching.

Perhaps they’ll suggest that you ask the state to provide more grant money for another worthless study at the UW.
Fortunately, this is still (nominally) a democracy and people have the right to interpret information for themselves.

The toll associated with electrical pollution saddens and sickens me. The treatment of those harmed by the utilities enrages me. The morality of those at the PSC, the university and the Division of Health who have kowtowed to the utilities disgusts me.

It’s easier to forgive the politicians because they ultimately rely on others for impartial advice.

I know it’s not politically expedient to raise the issue of human health, but we’ve all seen the consequences of basing decisions solely on political expediency. Political expediency didn’t help farmers. It won’t help you when you need it.

The entire system ostensibly designed to protect our health and welfare is a farce when it concerns electrical pollution. Liberals, conservatives, radicals, environmentalists, libertarians, whatever. They’re all afraid of tackling this issue. Most are on the utility dole, in one form or another. For decades they’ve never actually talked to any families whose lives have been ruined.

I live here. I refuse to accept the dumping of even more electricity in the environment because it jeopardizes the health of my children and me. The high-voltage transmission lines will appreciably add to that burden.

The utilities adamantly oppose independent monitoring. Isn’t anyone curious as to why? It would be an excellent way for them to show that my concerns are completely unwarranted.

Kurt Gutknecht
Fitchburg Star, June 1, 2006

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