The greater good

TANC project has a familiar buzz

To get $1.5 billion of stimulus money that’s earmarked for greening the electrical grid, the Transmission Agency of Northern California proposes to build 164 miles of humongous towers across Northern California. TANC works in the public interest on behalf of its member utilities, so it can exercise eminent domain to use land however it sees fit. Eminent domain is a lot like manifest destiny.

TANC will cut a swath through thousands of acres of forest and hundreds of properties, erecting towers as close as 30 feet from the houses of the people who thought they owned the land. Think about that: a crackling, 150-foot transmission tower ceaselessly pulsing out high-energy magnetic fields 30 feet from your remote and formerly peaceful home.

As a child, I lived one block from State Street, the east-west dividing line in Chicago that became part of the route for Interstate 94. In the 1950s, some government or other bought out the people who had property in the one-block path of what became the Dan Ryan Expressway. Where there’d been neighborhoods was a hole an eighth of a mile wide, for the greater good. The hole is still there.

While the rest of the country is learning to do without, TANC is ramping up, starting with $1.5 billion from us. Remember Enron?

You and I are mostly empty space with the occasional particle of information and energy doing whatever the hell it’s doing at that instant in conjunction with all the other particles. These particles are sensitive to all sorts of electromagnetic waves, and many sober people seem to think that pulsing, buzzing transmission towers may not be for the greater good, at least not if you live nearby.

Just one United Press International story from 2007 about a university study in Tasmania mentions increased rates of leukemia, lymphoma, and bone marrow cancer from living near high-tension wires. I heard about such cancer zones years ago in studies done in the United States. The woman who’d done the research kept finding more evidence, and the utility people kept saying either that she was nuts or they said nothing at all.

TANC mostly says nothing at all. Look at and see for yourself. Then look at or The TANC project will increase toxic air contaminants, remove active agricultural land from production, electrocute birds in a bald eagle breeding area, affect tribal lands and sites on the National Register of Historic Places, increase the likelihood of landslides on Round Mountain, and cause more surface water runoff and more erosion, not to mention what will happen to property values. For the greater good, though. When General Motors persuaded cities across the country to rip up their interurban lines and buy buses, that was for the greater good, too.

TANC’s project disproportionately affects low-income and minority populations, just like I-94 in Chicago. It’s usually easy to get poor people to roll over for the greater good. Maybe not this time.