H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Energy@h-net.msu.edu (November 2007) Paul Wellstone and Barry M. Casper. _Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War_. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981. Reprint, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. xiii + 314 pp. Index. $17.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8166-4384-9. Reviewed for H-Energy by Julie Cohn, Department of History, University of Houston Grassroots Politics, Power, and Bureaucracy in the Heartland In _Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War_, co-authors Paul Wellstone and Barry Casper argue that the 1970s struggle over a high-voltage transmission line across Minnesota marked the emergence of a new rural and environmental coalition poised to play a significant role in defining America's energy future. They further suggest that the established avenues for public participation in electric power development in Minnesota privileged the utilities. As a result, there was no authentic forum for debating energy policy and determining where, when, and how to expand utility infrastructure. Through a chronological narrative tracing unfolding events from 1972 to 1980, the authors reveal the process by which farmers became environmental activists, tested the limits of regulatory processes, and, through civil disobedience, challenged the assumptions that underlay energy planning in the United States. Wellstone and Casper provide a straightforward description of the power line controversy. In 1972, the Cooperative Power Association of Edina, Minnesota (CPA) and the United Power Association of Elk River, Minnesota (UPA) approached the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) about financing the construction of a large coal-fired electric plant in North Dakota and a high-voltage transmission line to carry the power across Minnesota to the Twin Cities. Concurrently, the Minnesota legislature overhauled state laws and regulatory agencies to address the environmental impact of new infrastructure projects. These changes removed eminent domain proceedings from the local level to the state level and reconfigured the relationship between utilities, regulators, and the public. When Minnesota farmers learned that their land would serve as the corridor for the power line, they united in a multiyear, and ultimately unsuccessful, effort to stop the project. The farmers and their supporters expressed their opposition in meetings with elected officials, in public hearings, in the state courts, in the press, and finally, through acts of civil disobedience on their own properties. The power line was built, in spite of the farmers' formal and informal protests, face-to-face confrontations with survey crews, and clandestine sabotage of the construction work. The power line battle embraced several themes central to the confluence of environmental history and energy history. Farmers were initially opposed to the placement of the power line across their land and they expressed opposition based on aesthetic, economic, and safety concerns. They also resented the anti-rural sentiments revealed in the computerized model used to identify the power line corridor. In this system, urban areas and wildlife preserves received a high rank number, while agricultural land received a zero value. This "not-in-my-backyard" environmentalism matured into more sophisticated questions about the actual need for additional power in Minnesota, the absence of conservation initiatives in the state's energy plans, and the minor role of renewable sources in energy policy development. Over time, the farmers became proficient participants in a dialogue about health risks associated with high-voltage power lines and ambiguity in the scientific research. Finally, farmers, politicians, and bureaucrats were all called upon to weigh expedience against personal risk in a conflict embracing both environmental and energy policy decisions. As activists directly involved in the opposition to the power line, former United States senator and political science professor Paul Wellstone and physics professor Barry Casper tell an insider's story. While the narrative is not without bias, the authors provide an effective portrayal of the growth of an authentic grassroots movement. They legitimate the concerns of the farmers, reveal the growing sophistication of the movement, and elicit sympathy for the cause. The use of interview excerpts to build profiles of individual activists is particularly effective in enabling the reader to appreciate the character of the opposition movement and the depth of frustration experienced by the farming community. At the same time, the authors manage to present the actions of the utilities, regulators, and elected officials with a degree of objectivity. They provide context for decisions unfavorable to the farmers and they focus on failures of the regulatory system that drove strategies on both sides. For example, the state's hearing process was designed to address solely where the power line should go and whether the technical specifications were sufficient to protect public health and safety. As a result, utilities were able to side-step questions about whether the power line was really needed while farmers were forced to resort to extralegal actions to bring attention to their concerns. In _Powerline_, Wellstone and Casper fail to address two central environmental issues: whether the debate for the farmers was ever truly larger than the question of where the power line would go, and whether it is legitimate to cast agricultural land as ecologically valuable. While the farmers raise questions about the immediate need for more electricity in Minnesota, the lack of conservation initiatives, and the safety of high-voltage transmission lines, the issue always seems to return to the intrusion on individual farmland. As farmer Jim Nelson, who is still actively working his land, says, "every time I see the towers, every time I walk in the fields, it kind of brings back all the memories of fighting the thing, and in a way every time I see it, I feel more bitter" (p. 128). The farmers and their supporters also focus on what they characterize as "things coming into our rural environment, destroying natural beauty and farms" (p. 265). While there are valid reasons for embracing this perspective, it is important to remember that farms were built at the expense of natural ecosystems in western Minnesota, they operate with extensive manipulation or elimination of naturally occurring species, and rural beauty is largely man-made. These shortcomings, however, do not prevent Wellstone and Casper from persuasively arguing that the farmers fought a losing battle within a system designed to promote the growth of electric power generation and consumption in the state. Despite the fact that _Powerline_ contains no footnotes, citations, or bibliographic references, it is clear that the authors have extensive personal knowledge of the transmission line battle. They quote politicians, bureaucrats, utility representatives, activists, and news reports extensively, albeit without interview or publication date information. The opening chapter contains substantial unreferenced information about the development of the REA, the local utilities, and electric power usage in Minnesota. The book would have benefited from more formal citation of sources, both to give weight to the arguments made by the authors and to enable other researchers to make use of this material in future investigations. _Powerline_ makes an important contribution to the history of electric power development, the grassroots movement, and the regulatory process. It reveals the ability of individuals to coalesce around a common problem, the limits of a democratic process that is grounded in questionable assumptions about energy sources and energy needs, and the opportunity to leverage local aesthetic, economic, and safety concerns into a deeper investigation of national environmental and energy policy issues. For students, _Powerline_ offers an accessible story of real, and relatively recent, clashes over energy policy on the local and state levels. For scholars, the book adds personal voices to the documentary evidence of how electric power decisions are negotiated. For the general reader, as well as environmental and regional historians, _Powerline_ provides fascinating insights into the relationships among farmers, regulators, politicians, grassroots organizers, and city-dwellers in the midwestern United States. Copyright (c) 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: email@example.com.