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Page added on October 13, 2019

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Trump Hasn’t Solved the Pipeline Crisis

A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Dec. 4, 2016. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

America has a severe plumbing problem. When it comes to crude oil and natural gas, the country can’t seem to replace its aging pipes or put in new lines to meet market demand on a timely and cost-efficient basis. For all the current administration’s vocal support of the industry, the situation has worsened under President Trump.

Over the past decade, as the U.S. shale revolution has opened up new sources of domestic oil and gas production, midstream takeaway capacity has struggled to keep pace. Building new interstate lines has become a costly, open-ended process, as climate-change politics have overwhelmed what used to be a straightforward permitting exercise. American consumers will pay the price in fuel shortages and higher costs, and the environment won’t benefit.

Since Mr. Trump cleared the way for the completion of the beleaguered Dakota Access Pipeline after taking office in January 2017, an opposition front of environmental lobbyists and like-minded Democrats has stymied every long-haul pipeline project across the country, regardless of sponsorship or operator track record. The list of currently stalled pipelines includes three major oil systems in the Midwest—headlined by Keystone XL, which has been stuck in regulatory purgatory since 2008—and six natural-gas transmission lines across the Eastern U.S., mainly in New York and Virginia. These nine projects total roughly $27 billion of U.S. infrastructure investment.

Pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly means of transporting oil and gas around the country, especially compared with alternatives such as rail or trucking. The 2.8-million-mile system of oil, product and gas pipelines currently blanketing the lower 48 states has a safe delivery rate of greater than 99.999%, based on Transportation Department data.

But in the running battle against fossil fuels, the environmental warriors now want to cut supply lines and thereby strand assets in the ground. Climate-change animus is overriding objective science.

Led by environmental activists, Native American tribes and, increasingly, blue-state governments, the protest complex now decries the unique dangers of piping “fracked gas” and “oil tar sands” around the country. Twinning an existing pipe allegedly poses a new and far greater threat to the ecological order. Somehow, pipelines buried more than 100 feet below riverbeds or encased in concrete tunnels still retain the power to pollute.

The U.S. economy will continue to be powered by oil and gas well past the arbitrary apocalyptic year of 2030 set by Green New Dealers. Shutting in domestic production through pipeline blockades will only balkanize the country’s energy market and encourage dependence on foreign sources—many of them unstable and unfriendly.

Keeping heavy Canadian crude from reaching U.S. refineries will mean continued reliance on Venezuelan and Mexican oil imports. Short-circuiting public-utility plans to add gas-fired power-generation capacity—since natural gas is now a bridge fuel too far for many activists—will create regional gas bottlenecks that adversely affect heating, cooking and electricity customers.

New England is currently cut off from cheap Marcellus Shale natural gas and forced to import more-expensive liquefied natural gas from Russia—a fate that may await the Southeastern U.S. (especially peninsular Florida) in the coming years. It is not surprising that Russian disinformation campaigns were active during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016-17, helping to spread fake environmental news about pipeline transportation.

To clear the regulatory right-of-way for U.S. pipelines, the Trump administration can pursue several strategies. First, persevere with current plans to limit state flexibility under the Clean Water Act to block critical interstate projects arbitrarily, returning final approval (and veto power) to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, where it belongs. Recently announced changes to the protections offered under the Endangered Species Act—including the introduction of economic factors—should cut down on the use of obscure species (often insects) as environmental roadblocks for pipelines.

Second, focus on natural-gas transmission, since many such stalled pipelines traverse hostile blue-state territory. The federal government has more positive regulatory power under the Natural Gas Act to push through these projects, working through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for certifying the public necessity of all new gas pipeline construction. To ready itself for this regulatory battle, FERC—where two of five commissioner slots remain open—needs to be fully staffed.

Third, fill as many open federal district court seats (92 currently, or 86% of total judicial vacancies) as soon as possible. That will help bring down the number of embedded ideologues across the district-court system who now routinely second-guess valid federal environmental permits.

Finally, the nexus between Native American groups and environmental activists has to be dealt with. Native groups give moral legitimacy to the efforts of environmental radicals, with the result that the latter’s unscientific objections to pipeline construction don’t get the scrutiny they deserve. The opposition of the Standing Rock Sioux to the Dakota Access Pipeline was less about water and the environment than about leverage and getting a piece of the economic pie.

When it comes to building indigenous support for energy infrastructure, the U.S. could learn from its neighbor to the north. Canada has well-established regulatory approval processes that require engagement and economic alignment with all affected First Nations communities, supplemented by dedicated funding sources to help finance project equity participation checks by individual tribes.

These initiatives would lay the groundwork over the long term for a streamlined and speedier pipeline approval process. Over the near term, however, the goal should be to lay as much pipe in the ground as possible. The fate of many pending projects will likely hinge on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.


One Comment on "Trump Hasn’t Solved the Pipeline Crisis"

  1. DerHundistLos on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 11:42 pm 

    Leave it to the Wall Street Journal and Trump to define what endangered species are classified as “obscure” and therefore expendable. The Trump environmental wrecking administration is working to make sweeping changes to the highly successful Endangered Species Act, including the application of “economic factors” to determine which species live and those sent to the abyss of the extinction trash bin.

    Thankfully, the courts have overturned 96% of Trump’s proposed changes to various environmental laws. Hopefully, the courts will prevail once again.

    How would you like to be in Trump’s shoes when the avenging angel of karma comes to visit.

    By the way, according to the WSJ Russian interference was all a hoax. I guess it depends on the circumstances. Hypocrites.

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