Coalition Letter to Jeff Bezos – 7/2/17

Amazon:  Best example of “liberal capitalism?” or Destroyer of generations of heritage communities in Virginia?


Dear Mr. Bezos,

You’ve had a busy month. Amazon exceeded $1,000 per share, your charity tweet went viral, and you snapped up Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. For some, that’s the work of a lifetime. For others, it’s a simply incomprehensible capacity for impact.

Most of your impact is for the good. You’ve transformed industries and saved consumers’ money and time. You’ve benefited millions – most of whom you will never know – who choose again and again to vote with their dollars and reward your ingenuity.

But there’s another set of people you probably won’t meet. For them – for US – your impact is the opposite of good. And unlike your consumers, we don’t have a choice. Your AWS datacenter team has made a hash of things here in Haymarket, Virginia – undercutting their own case for need, stumbling through regulatory proceedings, and aligning the world’s most innovative company with parties whose main innovation lies in wielding influence over politicians and regulators.

Frankly, this is sad for Amazon, and devastating for the local residents whose property and quality of life you put in the crosshairs.

But, like you, we’re optimistic. Your tweet was revealing. You value institutions that contribute to society and civilization. You want to serve urgent needs with lasting impact. And you have an eye on the long-term.

So do we.

And you can serve these goals by telling your AWS datacenter team to stop pursuing what it likely does not need and what NO ONE here wants.

Society and Civilization: You are an uncommon compound of left-libertarian sensibility leavened with capitalistic value-creation and -capture. What’s happening in Haymarket is just the opposite. It’s an unholy alliance of an entrenched political majority carrying water for a politically-favored monopoly, and a regulator aiding and abetting a private corporation’s use of rate payer dollars for speculative investment. Put simply, while Amazon could be the best example of “liberal capitalism” on the planet, the Haymarket scenario is 180-degrees away, clocking in somewhere between “conservative corporatism” and “opportunistic appropriation.” What is going on here isn’t advancing civilization or society – it’s putting historical, cultural and environmental assets at risk while using the state as the means to privatize benefits and socialize costs. It’s wrong – and not what you stand for.  It is so wrong that federal and national organizations, including the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Civil War Trust, have now inserted themselves into the process, questioning the adverse impacts being caused by the Haymarket AWS data center cluster, substation, and power line.  You can see the concerns these organizations have raised on our website:

Urgency and Lasting Impact: For homeowners and residents, the situation is beyond urgent. Dominion Power’s route is nearly final, with some extra “screw you” options being put on the table to let local elected officials know that Dominion does not appreciate being told it can’t simply seize the property it wants. Sometimes the game of the day is hardball, but this time, it’s ordinary residents caught in the middle, with property value loss risk expected around 12% and potentially reaching 30%. And that’s so that Dominion can build you a power line your own staff aren’t even sure you need. Saying “No” can have lasting impact in two ways: first, these homeowners and residents will find the sword hanging over them removed; and second, you can send a message to unscrupulous rent seekers that evil done in your name is unacceptable.

Long-term: In ten or twenty years, everyone involved with this project will look back and realize how myopic and blinkered many decisions seem in retrospect. To serve your speculative need, your supplier is using last-gen technology from source to site, coupled with 19th century monopolistic political tactics to grab the land they prefer for building. In other places Dominion looks like a different company – building solar fields within twenty miles of the Haymarket site and burying power lines where overhead routes are destructive. And the lesson here is nuanced: Dominion isn’t pushing an ugly solution because it doesn’t understand the options or see the future; it’s pushing an ugly solution because it doesn’t care if residents are stuck with last-gen impacts, and it has the political clout to make it so. Honestly, Mr. Bezos, is this the sort of backwardness that Amazon, Blue Origin, the Washington Post – and now Whole Foods – choose to associate with?

And let’s address Whole Foods specifically. You just bought a high-profile, high-affinity company with an explicit mission. “We Create Wealth Through Profit and Growth” – that’s more or less the opposite of property seizure and regulatory redistribution. “We Serve and Support Our Local and Global Communities” – again, the very opposite of how your team has proceeded in Haymarket, down to economic and aesthetic destruction, and simply ignoring laws and process you deem inconvenient. “We Practice and Advance Environmental Stewardship” – and yet your power supplier says openly it is not selecting the most environmentally-friendly route, and your own work on the site proceeds despite environmental warnings.

Jeff, you’re a man of action, so let us suggest three things you can do today.

  1. Ask your AWS datacenter team – and we have their names and email addresses if needed – how it managed to make such a mess of this situation and state on the record that they’re not sure if this transmission line is even needed?  Then ask them, if given the chance, would they ever choose to execute a sensitive project for Amazon and your subsidiaries in this way again?
  2. Ask your clients who will eventually use the federated CIA/NSA/general intel data housed at the site if they feel more or less secure having public attention constantly focused on this site? Ask them if this experience – and it’s not over yet – makes them more or less likely to trust AWS to keep their secrets, not just from a technical security standpoint, but from an operational security standpoint?
  3. Ask your CMO and Amazon Prime leaders if increased publicity that associates Amazon with indifference and ineptness regarding local concerns and complicity in dirty political game-rigging is a good thing, or a bad thing?

Just so you know, our community has unified to fight this intrusion at every step, and we are well on our way to making this the most expensive and drawn-out power line fight in the commonwealth of Virginia. If we come back in two years, five years, or ten years and ask these questions again . . . the answer will not get any prettier.

You’re a man of impact. You can have an impact that fulfills your charitable principles and corrects misalignment of Amazon with last-gen thinking and tactics. Your heart and your head are in the future – tell your associates and suppliers to get their asses out of the past.

The Coalition to Protect Prince William County