More static over power line plans

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Norway’s long-dominant Labour Party has not been having a good summer. After being trounced in public opinion polls, it’s now being assailed by both young and old officials from within its own ranks, after backing controversial plans for power lines over the scenic fjord and mountain area of Hardanger.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg enjoys hiking in the mountains, but has seemed willing to sacrifice the beauty of Hardanger to provide electricity to Bergen. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Norwegian newspapers were full of more stories over the weekend reporting opposition to the plans, which some have said look likely to lead to civil disobedience later this month. Former Labour Finance Minister Per Kleppe came out publicly last week against the plans, saying current Labour officials need to reconsider them.

Kleppe has since been joined by fellow Labour Party veteran and former minister for the environment Thorbjørn Berntsen. He told newspaper VG that the Hardanger power lines (called “monster masts” by their opponents) have “become a political burden on the party” as plans now stand.

Both Berntsen and Kleppe are urging current party officials, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Oil and Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen at the forefront, to reconsider their approval of the power line project, at least the route the power lines are now set to take. 

All agree they’ll be an eyesore over the scenic beauty of the popular Hardanger Fjord, which has prompted wails from the tourist industry, hikers and nature lovers and environmental organizations alike. Stoltenberg, Riis-Johansen and have said they understand the opposition, but that the power lines are necessary to avoid electricity shortages in the Bergen area. 

The issue is particularly sticky for Labour, which tries to present itself as a champion of the environment but has failed to oppose several other environmentally unfriendly projects as well. Labour has lost credibility among environmental advocates and Stoltenberg has been fending off critics for months, as his party has tumbled in the polls. Last week, an environmental youth group (Natur og Ungdom) awarded Stoltenberg the dubious honor of being the equivalent of an environmental traitor (“miljøversting”), for not using his government power to block environmentally hazardous projects from oil exploration off Lofoten to Statoil’s involvement in an oil sands project in Canada.

Now Labour’s own youth organization AUF has also come out firmly against the Hardanger power lines, and criticizes its own government for failing to more thoroughly explore other alternatives. Stoltenberg and Riis-Johansen have repeatedly denied that, saying the power mast placement as it now stands was the best and least intrusive route available.

Many political observers are predicting the government, faced with a massive protest march on August 14 and civil obedience not seen in Norway for decades, will back down. Some wonder whether the current, controversial route was intentionally chosen, in order to ultimately place the power lines on another route, also over the mountains but just north of Hardanger and therefore more likely to emerge as a compromise and thus overcome any opposition they likely would have encountered as well.

The head of the Parliament’s energy and environmental committee, who hails from the Labour Party, told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that he totally disagrees with charges that the party hasn’t devoted enough time to alternatives. “We have had major discussions and there’s no time now for a new battle,” said Tor-Arne Strøm, whose last name can ironically translate to “electrical power” in English. He said he doesn’t interpret all the opposition as “criticism” of the party, but rather “engagement” by the people.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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