Sunday, October 26, 2014

Andrew Needham's "Power Lines"

Andrew Needham is associate professor of history at New York University, where he teaches classes on recent U.S. urban, environmental, and Native American history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest, and reported the following:
When you flip to page 99 of Power Lines, you find postwar businessmen dreaming Phoenix’s future. In the moment in time captured on the page, Paul Fannin, a local propane dealer but eventually Arizona’s governor and senator, envisioned the development of a place called “the Valley of the Sun,” a place where people living in booming subdivisions would be employed by “light industries.” At the time Fannin spoke, in 1947, he actually still lived in the “Salt River Valley,” a valley where fields of cotton and citrus trees surrounded Phoenix, a city of little more than 100,000 residents.

How could this change occur? Page 99 shows Fannin and the other members of the Chamber of Commerce’s Industrial Development Committee aiming to transform local politics. “Industry,” Fannin told the Arizona Republic, “must have the assurance it will receive a fair deal from the locality in which it locates.” In the years that followed, Fannin and other businessmen ensured that industry would receive these assurances by entering into politics, dominating Phoenix’s City Hall and Arizona’s state house, and helping initiate bedrock principles of conservative economic policy: cutting business taxes, attacking state regulation, and pursuing public policy generous to business but parsimonious toward the unfortunate.

“Light industry” required more than just public policy, however. As much of the rest of my book demonstrates, companies that moved to Phoenix like Honeywell, General Dynamics and Raytheon also required energy. So too did the millions of people who moved to the new subdivisions of the Valley of the Sun. Burgeoning demand for electricity from Phoenix’s new industries and subdivisions quickly overwhelmed local supplies. Soon, it also outstripped the generating capacity of Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams. By the late 1950s, Phoenix’s businessmen, along with sympathetic officials at the Department of the Interior in Washington, began eyeing coal supplies located on Indian land in northern Arizona. By the mid-1970s, five coal-burning power plants and two massive strip mines marked those lands, sending power to Phoenix, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and other growing cities in the Southwest.

Paul Fannin’s quest to attract light industry that appears on page 99, then, is one element of a larger story of how Phoenix’s metropolitan development helped create underdevelopment and environmental destruction on Indian lands, as well as setting the stage for today’s coal-fired climate crisis.
Learn more about Power Lines at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue