Recent news of regulatory obstacles and lengthy courtroom challenges against energy infrastructure projects like the Atlantic Coast, Keystone XL, and Dakota Access pipelines have jolted the industry and spotlighted the need for regulatory consistency and clear regulations. Energy infrastructure projects increasingly face bureaucratic or legal purgatory awaiting approval—or have permits pulled out from under them even after years of safe operation.
Policymakers and regulators must work to streamline the permitting and approval process for critical infrastructure, especially given the need for investment and job creation following the COVID-19 pandemic, and see the big picture with regard to the multitude of benefits of investment in our energy systems. Regulatory reform is needed so future projects can avoid falling prey to needless reviews and lawsuits, and the overreach of activist judiciaries spurred on by those without a Plan B.
Interestingly, investment in our energy infrastructure (Plan A) is the environmentally sustainable approach. Not only does safe transit through pipelines produce minimal emissions, but it also removes scores of trucks and train cars from our highways and railways. And, with regard to natural gas, pipelines can connect to consumers and reduce or minimize the need for flaring, the practice of burning off excess gas produced during oil drilling. In other words, it is not just the consumer and the industry who reap the benefits of Plan A. With no other practicable alternative, this is the best approach for our environment.
Nonetheless, consider the Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP), which was designed to carry natural gas across Texas to help relieve transportation bottlenecks out of the Permian Basin—and reduce flaring, in the process. The project provides timely economic contributions amidst the current economic downturn, is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenues to support community services in Texas, and has already supported thousands of jobs for Texans with its construction. It is estimated that state and local jurisdictions will benefit from $42 million in annual tax revenues generated by the pipeline. Seemingly a win for all. Yet, pushback from environmental groups (with no reasonable Plan B) and regulatory barriers could impede the success this project would yield.
A number of federal and state agencies have been involved in the pipeline’s approval—ranging from the Railroad Commission of Texas to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—to ensure the project has met all permitting and safety standards and that its construction will not impact the surrounding environment.
Rather than trusting these committed professionals, opponents have launched several extraneous lawsuits and filed regulatory complaints seeking to block the project. In fact, one group of activists spent nine months developing a complaint with the Texas Railroad Commission, alleging pipe segments were damaged—only to find no damage after a thorough review by the commission. And earlier this summer, the Sierra Club—a national environmental group well known for opposing energy infrastructure development—argued in federal court that the Army Corps wrongly issued permits for the natural gas pipeline and called for an injunction to halt construction.
Instead of bending to the agenda-driven clamor of those who lack science, economic, and reasonable, sustainable public policy substance, regulators and policymakers should promote an atmosphere that invites investment in infrastructure that is safe, efficient, and affordable for years to come—Plan A. Second-guessing the dedication and scientific judgment of the professionals in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory agencies—that have looked at the facts and weighed the merits of the project—only continues to spur confusion among those making important investment, and regulatory, decisions. The U.S. legal and regulatory system must work towards following a consistent process that trusts this group of designated experts to oversee sustainable energy developments.
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