GAIN Strategic Advisor Col. Tom Magness (U.S. Army Corps, retired) was recently featured on Pipeliners Podcast, an outlet for professionals who care about pipeline operations to discuss the latest information and benefit from each other’s experience. The segment focused on the rigorous pipeline permitting and review process, tapping into Magness’ extensive experience with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he oversaw the completion over numerous multi-billion dollar infrastructure programs – from Southern California to Afghanistan.
Magness describes the Corps’ role as “Permit. Our job is to permit, to allow for reasonable development, and we need to work with these folks and find a way, and do that in a way that preserves the public interest.” In addition, he highlights the value of input from the public when it comes to infrastructure projects and describes the importance of reliable infrastructure in moving our nation forward:
When you’re trying to find balance between issues that sometimes have the appearance of being in complete opposite of one another, that can be a real challenge. What is important is we’ve got to find common ground for better or for worse.
I always like to start my public hearings, and many permits, as part of the process, there’s a public hearing component to it. Usually the district commander or the colonel is required to oversee that public hearing.
You get people, and they’re going to say whatever they want to say. As a professional, I’ve got to listen to them, but I would always try to start those public hearings with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Let’s get on the same page here. We’re all trying to do the right thing for our nation, and now let’s move forward. These were some difficult issues, and the first thing that I would tell you is we should all feel very good about the professionals that we have doing this business.
They’ve committed their life in the Army Corps of Engineers. These are civilian regulators that have put themselves, oftentimes, in harm’s way to be the face, the public face of the Army Corps of Engineers is our regulatory program. These folks are true professionals, and they understand the need for balance.
They’re going to make decisions based on science and based on the facts, and their judgment, I think, is solid, and they do the best they can. They’re the ones that present the decision to the colonel, and the colonel is the one that says yes or no. We should feel real good about the people that we have doing that job.
The podcast also highlighted Magness’ experience mitigating conflict and arbitrating divisive conversations between stakeholders who held different views. It is crucial that projects are evaluated independently and based on their individual merits – rather than on widespread or an ideological basis.
Sometimes you have to see beyond the emotion, and the emotion of some is not no, but heck no, that there’s no possible way that we would ever allow…
Let’s take a pipeline project. There are some who are opposed to the project just because of what it is, and the fact that it’s moving carbon products, and that there is no alignment, there is no location, there is no construction technique that would ever satisfy them if that is their position. No.
I’ve found it important to, “Let’s put this on the table. We’ve got to find a way. Can we all agree that there is a way? We may not know what it is right now, but that there is a way that we could get to yes that would balance our requirements for environmental stewardship and sustainable development. Can we all agree we’re going to find that way?”
We’ve got to get all the parties to agree to that, otherwise, you’re never going to move forward. There are some who start and end with, “It’s a no,” and that is not helpful.
In conclusion, Magness emphasized the importance of the public comment period and working closely, and transparently, with community members and local officials. Relationships are key.
What I don’t want to happen is we get to the end of a process, and then somebody jumps in with an objection that is going to cause us to go back to the beginning again. We’ve got to get all these people at the table from the beginning. We’ve got to establish some trust. There has to be a relationship.
I want people to pick up the phone and call me if there is an issue. I worked hard to build one on one relationships with the leaders of all those agencies so that we could have enough trust to move the process forward. We’ve got to trust the process.