Texas Scorecard recently published an opinion column from GAIN strategic advisor and retired Army Corps Col. Tom Magness regarding the bureaucratic and legal challenges facing critical energy infrastructure projects.
Col. Magness explains that recent setbacks for the Atlantic Coast, Keystone XL, and Dakota Access pipelines set a dangerous precedent for the future of infrastructure development and have “spotlighted the need for regulatory consistency and clear regulations.” Further, Magness suggests that policymakers and regulators have a responsibility to improve this process:
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.
Col. Magness explains that investment in our energy infrastructure network is the most environmentally sustainable approach to transporting the natural gas and oil that millions of Americans rely on each day:
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.
But despite this, environmental activists continue to oppose the construction of much-needed infrastructure – like the Permian Highway Pipeline in Texas:
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.
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.
Now is not the time to second guess the regulatory processes that have guided responsible infrastructure development for decades. As Col. Magness explains, regulators and policymakers must look to facts and science and “promote an atmosphere that invites investment in infrastructure that is safe, efficient, and affordable for years to come…”