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WASHINGTON – Decades ago, columnist George Will warned in a speech at the College of William and Mary that the United States would descend from a nation, a community, a people into a network of small, loud, single-interest “affinity groups.” It's come, from fringes right and left. President Obama adroitly threaded a network of liberal interest groups into the first Democratic majority re-election victory in nearly 70 years. On the other end, Americans For Tax Reform and its “tax pledge,” visible in the single person of Grover Norquist, keep bringing the country to the brink of financial default.

The National Rifle Association, representing 1 percent of the country's population, using an explosive potion of racism, intimidation and distortion, is poised to block any sensible approach to an epidemic of death by firearm.

Beyond political gridlock, some affinity groups offer economic stagnation, nationally and in New York State.

High in the vampire state's ladder of special interests is the well-meaning environmental community. Many of them, such as Buffalo's Jay Burney, a naturalist and founder of Times Beach Nature Preserve, have worked hard to transform remnants of the city's industrial wasteland into tracts of beauty and wonder.

Nationally, the reach of the nature-loving community has extended well beyond its numbers and deeply into public policy. The Obama administration menaces coal-burning power plants in the Ohio basin, driving up costs for Rust Belt industries struggling for revival.

The administration blocked extraction of hydrocarbons – oil, gas and coal – on federal lands and offshore. Most notoriously, Obama delayed the Keystone XL Pipeline, designed to carry Canadian crude to refineries on our Gulf Coast.

The direct loss of American jobs and spin-off is staggering. All this is based on the flimsy premise that if the United States alone turns to green energy, the world's skies will be purified and climate change will be arrested. In his post-election news conference, Obama claimed the United States will lead the world in green energy. Personally, he made only feints in this direction in his first term at Stockholm, then slunk back into the White House.

It is an inconvenient truth that the rest of the world, particularly communist China, is not listening. Nor is Canada. The Asian Basin is burning more polluting hydrocarbons than ever. After Obama's Keystone gambit, Canada turned its eyes across the Pacific. In December, Canada approved the $15 billion takeover of Nexen, owner of oil sands facilities in Alberta, by a Chinese state-run company. Canada and China know global demand for hydrocarbons will grow by 35 percent by 2035 and won't be left out.

Stifling the coal industry? Our coal exports are now triple the levels of a decade ago. So the stuff is being burned worldwide while American industry languishes.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state moratorium on hydrofracking shale for oil and gas is due to expire at the end of this month. More than 1,000 people – a group that no doubt included sincere environmentalists but also extremists who don't need or want paying jobs, and have no idea how an economy runs – demonstrated against this process in Albany in January.

Across the state's southern border, fracking is a $6 billion a year business. In central Pennsylvania, there are so many employed it is hard to get a hotel room.

Burney visited Williston, N.D., where fracking is king. Deeply concerned about collateral damage like permanent groundwater contamination, he said, “I couldn't tell whether it was a boom town or a hell hole.”

A likely hell hole, but so were parts of Bethlehem Steel, Buffalo's Mobil Oil refinery and Carborundum in Niagara Falls. These employers are long gone. And possibly, the notion of constructive trade-offs.



email: dturner@buffnews.com