Thursday, September 3, 2015

Former NJ Senator Robert Torricelli: Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

Former New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli made a good contribution to the impending debate over congressional approval of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. In a guest column for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Torricelli challenged Obama’s narrow focus on delaying Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. After noting the terroristic nature of the Iranian religious leaders, both inside and outside Iran, he wrote, in part:


The Iranian nuclear program cannot be divorced from the broader strategic problem. The current debate is based on the assumption that their nuclear program is a singular barrier to relations. Iran is a threat to our security, our values and our desire for a peaceful and just world order whether it manifests its policies through terror, conventional warfare or nuclear weapons.


The reality is that Iran will possess nuclear weapons at some point whether this agreement is enacted, violated or rejected.


. . . Delaying, disrupting and sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program are all vital national objectives but ultimately security will only be achieved by a regime change in Iran.


Our intelligence agencies disregard the chances of an Iranian regime change through internal revolution. These are the same analysts who failed to predict the fall of the Shah, collapse of the Soviet Union, rise of Chinese economic power and the Arab Spring.


The embargo is fomenting opposition in Iran. Street protests and acts of civil disobedience are rising. A generation of educated young people is attuned through the internet to the larger world in ways that young activists of the communist block could not have dreamed. It's the wrong time to ease the embargo.


Arguing that “a more comprehensive policy” aimed at establishing a “free and democratic Iran” should be our ultimate goal, Torricelli concludes that


The Iranian nuclear agreement should be defeated. Every agency of the United States government should be tasked with supporting every opposition group and destabilizing every economic, military and political component of the Iranian regime.”


This points to another important drawback to Obama’s deal. The activists fighting the theocrats running Iran will be demoralized and undercut as they see America—the “Great Satan”—making deals with the ruling thugs. Such deal-making confers an implicit legitimization of the Iranian regime—a legitimization the regime certainly does not deserve, for reasons stated in this article.


I left these supporting comments:


“The Iranian nuclear program cannot be divorced from the broader strategic problem. The current debate is based on the assumption that their nuclear program is a singular barrier to relations. Iran is a threat to our security, our values and our desire for a peaceful and just world order whether it manifests its policies through terror, conventional warfare or nuclear weapons.”


This is the crux of the matter. The most fundamental issue is not Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb. Many countries, including Israel, have a nuclear bomb, but are not a threat to the world. The most fundamental issue is Iran’s ambitious, world-scale “Holy War (JIHAD) along the way of God,” as its constitution states.


Obama views his deal as an isolated tactical move to head off a nuclear Iran. But it is dangerous to isolate the deal from the wider context. That context is this: Iran is the leader, the inspiration, the beau ideal of an imperialistic movement that seeks world domination under a totalitarian Islamic theocracy. Iran is a threat under any circumstances, and will use any deal, not as a means to better relations with the West or its neighbors, but as the Soviets did before them; as a means to advance its imperialist aggression.


While I don’t necessarily agree with every one of his points, I do believe that Torricelli is correct to assess the nuclear issue according to the broad perspective.


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On thing I disagree with is Torricelli’s claim that a nuclear armed Iran “became inevitable thirty years ago when the United States and our allies failed to develop an energy policy and poured billions of oil profits into the mullahs' treasury.” It’s largely because America didn’t have an national energy policy—a euphemism for central planning—that the shale oil and gas fracking boom occurred. No government official saw it coming. Under a national energy policy, this energy revolution may never have occurred.


That aside, Torricelli’s perspective is well worth considering.


Related Reading:




The Jihad Against America and How to End It, by Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard blog




Related Viewing:

Assessing the Iran Nuclear Deal—Interview with Elan Journo, Ayn Rand Institute

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

‘Frozen’ Pell Grants are a Small Step in the Right Direction

There’s nothing like being the fireman who rushes to fight a fire that he himself started.

That fireman is who the advocates of ever more federal financial aid to college students are trying to be. In a March 2015 New Jersey Star-Ledger guest editorial, lawyer, board member of America Needs You - New Jersey, and former economics policy analyst Matt Platkin lambasted congress for reining in federal Pell grants as part of a 10-year effort to cut the federal budget.

Platkin’s article is titled In freezing cap on Pell Grants, Congress turning back on students as cost of education keeps rising. In my comments, I replied to several points raised by Platkin:

“Congress could have chosen to focus on important issues, such as . . . the seemingly unrestrained growth in tuition that far outpaces inflation.”

Government funding of college is the culprit driving up college costs, so it’s disingenuous to demand that government spend more money on college financial aid because of rising college costs. It's like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

“. . . what message does this send to our students? It suggests that Congress views them only as political bargaining chips.”

College students became a political bargaining chip when Congress got involved in college loans and financial aid.

“Congress is telling those applicants . . . that their educational prospects should be dictated not by effort or ability but by financial means.”

Any common thief could make the same argument. But the financial means should be moral, and seizing other people’s money against their will is not moral. It’s easy for do-gooders to demand Congress force other people to pay for their schemes. Why doesn’t America Needs You - New Jersey raise voluntary contributions, instead of demanding Congress pick other people’s pockets? It’s laughable to speak of “the value of hard work and financial responsibility,” and then demand more government handouts involuntarily paid for by hardworking American taxpayers.

“Last week, Congress declared a war on students.”

In fact, Congress declared war on American taxpayers when it started the welfare state, including seizing their money to pay for other people’s college education. The GOP is not proposing to abolish the Pell program, as it should. But the Pell “cap freeze” is at least a step in the right direction. It’s about time Congress gave some consideration to productive Americans who pay the bill for the do-gooders. The GOP budget overall seeks to restrain the growth in federal spending and balance the budget over time, at least in theory. Every dollar not spent by Congress is another dollar left in the hands of the people who earned it, and that is laudable.

Related Reading:



Why Must Colleges be Primary Schools?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Iran Deal and Senator Menendez's Opposition

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez became the second prominent Democrat—New York Senator Charles Schumer was the first—to announce his opposition to President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. In a common refrain among supporters of the deal, starting with Obama, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized that Menendez opposition to Iran pact risks war, because

Obama was right on the larger point: The alternative to this agreement is indeed war. And nothing Menendez said in his thoughtful speech Tuesday opposing the deal refuted that core fact.

The choice now is between this deal, and no deal at all. Because if the United States walks away, the international sanctions regime that got Iran to the table will fall apart, according to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the bulk of independent experts.

Rejecting this deal would hand the hard-liners in Iran a giant victory, allowing them to rush towards building a bomb without restraint, and without international inspectors on hand to keep tabs. Iran is only a few months from having the materials to build a bomb, according to the best intelligence, which Menendez does not challenge.

So without this agreement, Obama or the next president could face a horrifying choice: Either allow Iran to become a nuclear power, or launch air strikes to destroy suspect facilities.

I left these comments, which earned the honor of “Featured Comments,” out of the 198 comments posted, directly under the Star-Ledger article:

The underlying danger is that our leaders have never acknowledged that we are already at war with Iran and what it stands for; imperialistic, totalitarian Islam—an enemy that seeks a worldwide subjugation under a Sharian theocracy. This is not a “radical” interpretation of Islam. It is fundamentalist Islam.

We have been at war with this movement since 1979. It’s never been a “War on Terrorism,” any more than the war with the Empire of Japan was a “War on Kamikazes.” The danger is in the fact that we have never acknowledged this war for what it is.

True, the Imperialist Islamic movement is not fully united. Various factions jockey for power within the movement. But all are united by the same essential goal, and Iran is the leader and beau ideal of the movement. Iran’s own constitution declares explicitly that worldwide Islamic revolution and domination is its ultimate goal and duty. The Iranian constitution states:

The Mission of the Constitution is to identify itself with the basic beliefs of the movement and to bring about the conditions under which the lofty and worldwide values' of Islam will flourish.

The Constitution, having regard to the Islamic contents of the Iranian Revolution, . . .  provides a basis for the continuation of that revolution both inside and outside the country. It particularly tries to do this in developing international relations with other Islamic movements and peoples, so as to prepare the way towards a united single world community.

. . . the Islamic Republic's army, and the corps of Revolutionary Guards . . . have responsibility not only for the safeguarding of the frontiers, but also for a religious mission, which is Holy War (JIHAD) along the way of God, and the struggle to extend the supremacy of God's Law in the world.

I don’t know if Obama’s deal is the best path toward avoiding the military option or preventing Iran from getting the bomb, or if Menendez is right that the deal must be killed. I don’t have enough expertise to make that judgement. Obama claims his way is the best way forward. I hope he’s right. But I do believe Obama is wrong to separate the nuclear issue from the wider context. The most fundamental issue is not Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb. Many countries have a nuclear bomb, but are not a threat to the world. The most fundamental issue is Iran’s “Holy War (JIHAD) along the way of God.”

I believe that the choice is NOT the Iran deal or war with Iran. We are already at war with Iran. We will be until Iran explicitly and unconditionally renounces its stated imperialist goals the way Imperial Japan was made to renounce, not just its aggressive goals, but its internal culture of war that gave rise to its aggression, under FDR’s policy of unconditional surrender. Iran is not just the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. It is the world sponsor of a movement not much different from the goals of Soviet communism or the Axis Alliance. Until we publicly acknowledge this reality, we should be very worried about any deal any of our leaders make with Iran, because—given Iran’s ideological state—there is no way today’s Iran will see a deal any differently than the Soviets or the Nazis—as a means to advance its aggressive goals.

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My comments were inspired by the video put out by the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo, Assessing the Iran Nuclear Deal. I highly recommend this 12 minute video.

Related Reading:

The Jihad Against America and How to End It, by Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard blog


Related Viewing:

Assessing the Iran Nuclear Deal—Interview with elan Journo for ARI

Friday, August 28, 2015

‘Mandatory Paid Sick Leave” is Immoral and Economically Destructive

Statewide mandatory paid sick leave is on the New Jersey legislature’s agenda, and the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorializes that Mandatory paid sick leave would work well for New Jersey.

The Star-Ledger cites Jersey City’s new paid sick leave law as proof that it “works”:

Fifteen months ago, an ordinance was launched that requires Jersey City businesses with 10 or more employees to provide their workers with five paid sick days a year, and - mirabile visu! - the city somehow hasn't fallen to pieces.
Just the opposite, actually.

The Eagleton Center at Rutgers has surveyed 289 businesses in town and learned that business is booming: Four out of five employers offer paid sick leave, 92 percent of them said there has been no abuse of the program, and 42 percent report actual improvement in worker productivity, better quality with hires, and/or lower turnover rates.

Oh, and say it loud and proud, Chamber of Commerce: Since Mayor Steve Fulop imposed this policy in the state's second largest city, unemployment has plummeted.

That's one answer for those who claim that mandatory sick leave will cause towers to tumble and locusts to visit the land.

I left these comments:

Those who claim that mandatory paid sick leave would cost jobs are correct, regardless of statistics. When you artificially raise the cost of hiring, the incentive to hire is reduced. This is easily proven through a little introspection. Just ask yourself: As a consumer, is cost a consideration before you buy something? Why would it be any different for employers, the “consumers” of labor?

The Star-Ledger’s flippant “Oh, and say it loud and proud, Chamber of Commerce: Since Mayor Steve Fulop imposed this policy in the state's second largest city, unemployment has plummeted” notwithstanding, the drop in unemployment proves nothing regarding Jersey City’s forced paid sick leave law. As any basic economics text will tell you, employment is affected by myriad factors. The Star-Ledger ignores all context. Indeed, the very article cited by the Star-Ledger quotes Mayor Fulop as crediting Jersey City’s drop in unemployment to the city’s “strategic approach to both attract development and new businesses.” The sick leave law isn’t mentioned in the article. So the Star-Ledger is disingenuous to even bring up the employment picture. More likely, unemployment would have improved even more without forced sick pay.

It’s also important to realize the hidden effects of job cost-escalating legislation. Such laws hamper smaller, newer, and financially strapped businesses struggling to get off the ground and/or expand. On the other hand, such laws favor larger, established businesses, such as the 62% that already have voluntary paid sick leave. New competition is thus hampered. As the other article cited by the Star-Ledger observes, more than 75% of the businesses required to pay sick time under Jersey City’s law are unaffected by the law. Fulop’s law favors established businesses that already have paid sick time. Like most economic regulation, the law is in effect a back-door subsidy to established business (which, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, tend to have the most political influence).

The most important reason why mandatory paid sick leave is bad law is because it is immoral, violating the rights of employers to set the terms of employment for the jobs they create and maintain. It also violates the rights of employees, especially young, inexperienced workers looking for an opening onto the economic ladder of upward mobility. These “silent victims” of rights-violating labor laws like mandatory paid sick leave, minimum wage laws, ObamaCare mandates, and the like, will have less chance of finding a job, if not lose a job they already have. As costs of employment are forced up, employers will demand more experience in job hiring even as they try to make due with fewer employees. Jobs—entry level jobs especially—will suffer.

It makes common and empirical sense. No matter how one cuts it, mandatory paid sick pay is immoral and economically destructive, especially for the most vulnerable—young, inexperienced job-seekers. Aside from instances of fraud or breach of contract, governments at all levels should stay out of employer-employee contracts. Such contracts are rightfully and morally a strictly voluntary matter between employers and job-seekers. Who the h--- are a bunch of politicians to dictate how other people manage their employment affairs? Government has no business dictating employment terms.

Related Reading:

Mandatory Paid Sick Time: Economically Destructive because Morally Wrong

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hillary Picks Up Obama’s Attack on For-Profit Colleges

The Obama Administration’s attack on private, for-profit career colleges will get a new life under a Hillary Clinton Administration. Commenting favorably on Clinton’s recently announced government plan to bail college students out of their debt burdens, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized about Clinton’s “piecemeal package”:

Its best component . . . is it continues the Obama administration's attack on exploitation, enforcing a gainful employment rule that judges ruthless for-profit schools on their students' debt and incomes after graduation.

Obama’s attack on for-profit colleges began in 2010 with the so-called “gainful employment” rules, which are supposed to see to it that the debt levels students graduate with are commensurate to the income they will receive from their chosen career path. These rules were subsequently shot down in the courts, but were reinstated in July of this year. (See Craig Biddle’s extensive article from the print edition of The Objective Standard, The Government’s Assault on Private-Sector Colleges and Universities, and my follow-up TOS blog post The Government’s Renewed Assault on Private-Sector Colleges.)

I left these comments on the Star-Ledger’s editorial:

The elephant in the room is the fact that the government college financing gravy train caused the runaway college costs that Clinton now wants to fix with still more taxpayer largess. It’s the same old scheme, repackaged: Wave the magic wand of more government subsidies, and the cost  problems Americans face with higher education will miraculously disappear. No concern for who will be forced to pick up the tab—American taxpayers themselves.

The worst of this editorial, and of Clinton's plan, is the vicious smear and attack on “ruthless for-profit schools.”

For-profit colleges, also called career colleges, cater mostly to mature working poor and middle class students who are trying to improve their skills through education while juggling jobs, families, and other adult responsibilities. These schools succeed despite unfair competition from public colleges, which have the benefit of taxpayer subsidies that enable them to keep tuitions artificially low.

The Obama Administration’s attack on for-profit schools is motivated by an ideological bias against profits, not any concern about “exploitation.” The gainful employment rules are rigged mainly to target the for-profit colleges. There is a double standard here. If the gainful employment debt-to-earnings guidelines were fairly enforced against all colleges, the public colleges and non-profit colleges would fare as bad or worse than the for-profits. The problem of the disconnect between the cost of higher education and the ability to repay the loans cuts across all of higher education, not just private for-profits. And it is mainly the government’s fault, [relating to the wide-open spigot of easy government-backed student loans]. Yet Obama gives all but the for-profits a pass.

Clinton’s plan continues that hateful attack. If successful, the discriminatory attack on for-profit colleges would cut off an important educational path for millions of students trying to improve their career prospects.

True, there are some unscrupulous private for-profit colleges. But the same goes many times over for public colleges, which have ridden the government’s student loan gravy train to tuition increases four times the rate of inflation over the last several decades. But the Obama Administration and the Left generally are allowing their hatred of profit-seeking to drive a scheme to target, crucify, and eventually eliminate the for-profits and gain increasing government control over higher education. Their use of government power to discriminatorily attack the for-profits would make any gangster drool with envy.

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Students attending or considering for-profit colleges that don’t meet the gainful employment standards will lose access to federally-backed loans and grants. Given the dominance of the government in student financing, this will effectively put many of these schools out of business. And that, not any concern about “exploited students,” is the goal of Obama, Clinton, and their mouthpieces in the media like the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

But as I wrote for TOS,

The government should not be involved in lending money to students at all. But so long as it is, and so long as it regulates these loans, it is morally obligated—and should be legally obligated—to treat all students and all educational institutions equally under the law. Toward that end, Congress should amend the Higher Education Act to forbid the executive branch from acting prejudicially against private-sector, for-profit colleges and universities.

Related Reading:




NJ Assemblyman Joseph Cryan's Bill to Control College Costs is the Wrong Solution

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mulshine on the ‘National Anti-Pipeline Movement’

New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine ran a nice article last March 2015 regarding what he coined “national anti-pipeline movement.” In his article, Pipeline opponents' oily logic: The alternatives are much worse for the environment, Mulshine shredded the cause of the NIMBY/Environmentalists’ anti-pipeline movement. After noting the NJ Sierra Club’s call for more “investment” in solar and wind,  Mulshine wrote:

No, we don't. Wind and solar are incredibly inefficient compared to fossil fuels. Wind power sounds wonderful in theory. But it would take about 100 of those massive 360-foot wind turbines to equal the output of a typical conventional plant like Beesley's Point in Atlantic County - which the enviros are trying to shut down with another NIMBY campaign focusing on the perils of a proposed gas pipeline.

To equal that amount of power, you'd have to put a windmill on every decent-sized mountain in Northwest Jersey. Imagine climbing to the top of the Sourland range only to see a vast field of wind turbines - and the corpses of the hawks and eagles they kill.

The Sourland Mountain Range is a preserve that runs through Somerset and Hunterdon Counties in Central New Jersey. Mulshine tells us in his article about an excursion he took through the preserve. On a run, he came upon two pipelines running through the preserve—the Texas Eastern Pipeline and the Buckeye Pipeline. Mulshine observes that, if not for a few stakes identifying the location of the pipelines, he wouldn’t have known they were buried there.

I left these comments:

If Mr. Mulshine had ventured a little farther West on the Sourland Mountain range, he would have encountered evidence of another front in the War on Pipelines; lawn signs opposing the proposed PennEast natgas pipeline through Western Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. Here, too, another branch of the unholy alliance of NIMBY hypocrites and anti-industrial environmentalists is at work trying to stop the pipeline from being built and delivering life-giving energy to consumers. As usual, Jeff Tittel and his Sierra Club are leading the charge.

Of the two factions, the NIMBYs are the easiest to debunk and the least threatening: They are moral hypocrites for opposing pipelines in their back yards while continuing to enjoy the benefits of America’s 2.4 million mile pipeline network to sustain their lives. The “environmentalist extremists behind the anti-pipeline movement” are the much bigger danger, as they are driven by an irrational ideological opposition to reliable, plentiful, economical energy that human well-being and a liveable environment depends on. If they ever got their way, the human wreckage would be unimaginable.

I’ve been fighting my own personal battle against this alliance with article comments, letters to the Hunterdon County Democrat, and even a 3000 word post on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website regarding FERC’s review of PennEast’s application, in which I rebut the main arguments advanced by pipeline opponents. Most of the PennEast opposition’s “logic” is just as illogical as Pilgrim’s opponents. On my daily 3-mile walk, I stroll right over the Transco easement in Readington, under which 3 major natgas transmission pipelines, surrounded by houses and farms, deliver vital energy to New Jerseyans. What’s so bad about Transco’s pipelines, especially when weighed against the enormous human benefits they deliver? I don’t get how anyone can believe the nonsense that PennEast’s pipeline would ruin the Sourland Mountain, as opponents claim in signs such as “Stop the Pipeline, Save the Sourlands.”

There is a valid concern about the threat of eminent domain powers being granted to pipeline companies. But given the overall vital necessity of pipelines, it’s a shame and a danger that more average energy consumers don’t speak up on behalf of pipelines.

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Mulshine also mentions the NIMBY/Environmentalist opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline proposal through Northeastern NJ. He observes that the goal of the national anti-pipeline movement is to shut down oil and gas drilling by killing the means of delivering the product to refineries and consumers. And then he concludes:

Then enviros say this is all necessary in an attempt to curb CO-2 emissions. But if they were really concerned with CO-2 they'd support nuclear power, which produces massive amounts of energy with zero emissions.

Instead they're engaged in a thinly disguised effort to bring economic progress to a halt in the name of the environment.

As for the NIMBYs, if they're really worried about the risks from pipelines, the first thing they should do is disconnect their houses from the natural gas lines that runs down their streets. If that stuff's so dangerous in the middle of the woods, why would you let it into your house?

Mulshine concludes, “As for me, I'm glad the pipelines are there.” So am I. So should anyone who values their comfortable, safe, enjoyable lives the energy from these pipelines deliver.

Related Reading:



Climate Change or Not, Humans Need Reliable, Economical Energy—and the Pilgrim Pipeline

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Who Decides Whether PennEast’s Pipeline is Needed, Necessary, and Wanted?

A new report on behalf of PennEast Pipeline co., which has run into stiff local and environmentalist opposition to its proposed natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, argues that—


Families and businesses in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey would have saved more than $890 million in energy costs had the proposed PennEast Pipeline been in place during the 2013-2014 winter.


The 2013-2014 winter was a particularly cold one for the region. Not surprisingly, opponents reacted negatively to the report. As the Hunterdon County Democrat’s Terry Wright reports:


Critics immediately blasted today's report.


"The new claim by PennEast is more hot air," said Jeff Tittel, director NJ Sierra Club. And he termed the supposed savings for consumers to be a "false assumption since the price of natural gas is set by the overall market, not just in one area."


"There is no guarantee the gas from this pipeline would stay here; it could just as easily be exported from Cove Point, Md.," he added. He was referring to a liquefied natural gas export terminal under construction there by Dominion Resources. The U.S. Energy Department has approved Cove Point's planned exports to other countries starting in 2017.


"The reason PennEast keeps spinning with reports is because the public opposes this pipeline," Tittel added, calling it "unneeded, unnecessary and unwanted."


I left these comments challenging Tittel:


[T]he supposed savings for consumers to be a "false assumption since the price of natural gas is set by the overall market, not just in one area."


This is not true. Local and/or regional factors can and do affect prices. As Bloomberg Business reports in Northeast Record Natural Gas Prices Due to Pipeline Dearth:


“A lack of pipelines is depriving consumers of the full benefits of low-cost energy. Although the wells in Pennsylvania are practically in the backyard of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, pipeline companies are still working to connect the gas fields to the utility pipes beneath towns and cities. Until they do, a lot of gas will continue to get pumped more than 1,000 miles from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.”


The more fundamental issue is moral; the rights of producers and their consumers to voluntarily contract to mutual benefit. Who is Tittel to claim that the pipeline is "unneeded, unnecessary and unwanted?" He has no right to speak for anyone but himself. It’s up to each consumer to decide whether they need the gas. The only moral and practical solution: If you don’t need the gas, [do not] want it, or [don't] find it necessary, don’t buy it. But don’t block other buyers who decide they do need it, want it, and find it necessary.


As for all of the anti-PennEast NIMBY’s out there, keep in mind that 1000 miles of natgas pipelines that supply New Jerseyans—or for that matter the other 2.4 million miles of natgas pipelines now in use in America that 71 million Americans rely on. Be grateful that other NIMBY’s didn’t stop them.


Related Reading:





Untangling the PennEast Pipeline Rights Conundrum