After nine years of litigation and regulatory maneuvering, the Secretary of the Interior has given the approval for construction of the Cape Wind offshore power-generation facility. (Well, sort of…there are still a few more regulatory hurdles to clear before any actual wind turbines can be erected.)
Nine years is a long time, and it’s worthwhile to look at what Americans have been able to do in that amount of time…and in much shorter amounts of time…in other periods of our history.
Hoover Dam. The contract for this massive project was signed on March 11, 1931, and the first concrete was poured on June 6, 1933. The finished dam was dedicated by President Roosevelt on September 30, 1935, and by October 1936, it was transmitting electricity from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. A little over five years, from contract signing to power in the wires.
Empire State Building. The decision to build this structure was made in early 1929. Excavation for the construction started in January 1930, and the building was complete on May 1, 1931. About 2 1/2 years, from “go” decision to a finished building.
Atlas Missile. In 1953, during a dark period of the Cold War, the Strategic Missile Evaluation Committee was formed to evaluate the threat of Soviet ballistic missiles and the feasibility of US ballistic missile development. The committee’s report led to the decision, in the spring of 1954, to reorganize and to greatly accelerate the Atlas missile program. Flight testing of Atlas began in 1956, and in November 1958 an Atlas nose cone flew 6000 miles and landed accurately. Operational deployment of the weapon began in 1959 and 1960. Six years, from “go” decision to operational deployment, for a weapons system that required major technological advances as well as conventional design and manufacturing work.
Manned Lunar Mission. In 1961, President John Kennedy called for a national program to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. This was accomplished in July 1969…8 1/2 years, for something that had previously been in the realm of science fiction.
Turboelectric Drive for Destroyer Escorts. A less galactic project than some of the above, but still important and revealing. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy initiated the construction of several hundred destroyer escorts for antisubmarine work. But the propulsion systems normally used for these vessels required the precision cutting of very large gears, and all the gear-cutting machinery in the country was booked for other high-priority war work. General Electric proposed turboelectric drive as an alternative…probably not quite as good a solution from a performance standpoint, but one having the advantage of actually being manufacturable in a relevant time period. To produce the required equipment, a new plant with 15 acres of floor space was constructed in Syracuse. It was built and equipped with machine tools…and 3,000 new employees were hired…in nine months.
In today’s environment, this plant would not have been built and staffed in nine months. Rather, huge amounts of time and energy would have been expended in a search for somebody to blame for not having had the foresight to procure an adequate number of gear-cutting machines…and dozens of additional ships would have been sunk for lack of escort protection.
To return to the Cape Wind project: it is noteworthy that these extreme delays have taken place even though wind power is viewed very favorably by the vast majority of environmentalists. And Cape Wind is by no means the only “green” energy program that has been seriously delayed in this manner. “Progressives” have created a hydra-headed monster of negativity and delay that they cannot turn off, even when they want to.
Is it time to say (with apologies to Edmund Burke): The age of creative achievement is gone; that of lawyers, bureaucrats, herd-following academics and holier-than-thou environmentalists has succeeded, and the glory of America is extinguished forever?
I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but we’re getting there, and it is going to be very difficult to turn these trends around.
A few links and references:
My post on the Hoover Dam, the Atlas missile program, and the difficulty of getting things done in today’s America: Like swimming in glue.
Destroyer escort story is from Men and Volts at War (GE, 1947)