Let me start by saying that what I will ultimately write about in this blog is currently before the Attleboro City Council. That means that I will vote on this issue as a city councilor. Regardless of whether or not this issue is discussed publicly before or after a public hearing makes no difference.
A public hearing is a time for the public to weigh in on an issue and a councilor may not step up to the podium and express an opinion before the rest of the council and then cast a vote as a city councilor because those are the rules of that particular forum. A councilor, howeve, always has the right to express his or her opinion publicly in a different forum, such as a newspaper or a blog, due to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
A councilor may or may not have made up his/her mind on the topic before a public hearing and always has the right to change a position when presented with new information BEFORE a vote is taken. But it does not matter the timing.
A councilor will always have a first amendment right to speak to any issue in a different forum than a public hearing because political speech is the most protected speech under our Constitution. Oh, and by the way, a constituent may, after the public hearing, call a councilor privately to express his or opinion also, before a vote is taken because it is not the same forum.
How many representatives in congress write articles, blogs, or newsletters to promote or defend what he or she has authored for legislation at any time of the legislative process?
Having said that I want to say that my position on the banning of gasification has nothing to do with gasification itself. It has to do with the idea that I don’t think it is good public policy to outright ban any particular kind of technology especially when there could be variants of that technology that may serve to be very useful in their particular form.
For example, most people are very fearful of nuclear radiation and rightfully so. Most people do not want to have a nuclear power plant in their backyard. But does that mean that we want to ban all kinds of nuclear radiation? If we did then our hospital would be in grave trouble operating as it currently does. Why? Because we have found all kinds of useful ways to use nuclear radiation technology that has nothing to do with building nuclear power plants.
I could end here and feel like I had said enough. But, I would like to point out that I understand that some people are very fearful of gasification. It is an ugly word in itself. But on our own Department of Energy’s website, it says about coal gasification:
“The capability to produce electricity, hydrogen, chemicals, or various combinations while eliminating nearly all air pollutants and potentially greenhouse gas emissions makes coal gasification one of the most promising technologies for energy plants of the future.”
And though I am not touting, selling, or promoting the creation of gasification plants I am completely opposed to the outright banning of any particular type of technology, including gasification, as a way to sooth and calm public fears about a particular use of that technology. A better way to handle that fear would be to provide for several different boards in the city to have oversight of whatever use it is of that technology.
As a matter of public policy, the banning of a technology in total is simply not smart and smacks of the politics of fear. Let us not act fearfully.