Wednesday, February 25, 2015

‘Benefit’ to State or Local Towns Irrelevant to Pipeline Approval

Proposed pipelines typically generate loud opposition from some local activists. The proposed Pilgrim pipeline, which would carry liquid petroleum across northern New Jersey, is one such pipeline. The activists’ arguments are many—and often make no sense other than to serve as rationalizations for opponents’ goal to stop the project. For example, in a New Jersey Star-Ledger letter (Don't gamble with our water), one opponent of the Pilgrim pipeline, Anne C. Powley of Mahwah—one of the towns in the path of the pipeline—wrote:

The refined material [the pipeline will transport] will not be used in N.J. and our towns will get no financial or other benefits, just the risk of a leak polluting our water.

Consider the logic that the above quote implies. Powley is essentially saying: Commerce (goods and services) cannot pass through “our” state (or town or community) unless the producer pays protection money or buys the locals off with some other “benefits.” (Actually, local communities do benefit. In NJ, pipeline companies pay property taxes to local governments. But we’ll leave that issue aside.)

All goods and services that humans produce requires energy, and the primary source of that energy is fossil fuels. The delivery of this energy largely depends on the more than two and a half million miles of liquid petroleum or natural gas pipelines currently criss-crossing the nation. In fact, nearly every activity that fills our needs and desires depends in some way on our pipeline network.

Every “community” in the nation—including the towns through which the Pilgrim Pipeline would pass—depends in some way on pipelines passing through other communities. Imagine if every community had the power to stop pipelines through its “backyard” because some of its residents don’t perceive any immediate or direct benefits. What would become of people’s lives. Economic vitality would grind to a halt, or close to it. Every community would then be reduced to pre-industrial misery and poverty.

Why? Because indirect benefits abound. A pipeline carrying fuel not used in the local community may provide fuel for farming equipment used by farmers hundreds or thousands of miles away. That farmer may then ship its crops to processing plants that turn them into packaged foods that fill the shelves of local supermarkets in far away communities—including the very same community where Powley resides. Look around, Ms. Powley. How much of what constitutes MahWah’s wealth—from construction materials to consumer goods to fuel to medical supplies to electronic equipment to communications to transportation, etc.—is locally produced?

It is monumentally hypocritical for local residents—who themselves depend on pipelines—to oppose the pipeline because they don’t perceive any direct benefit from this particular pipeline. They themselves benefit from the goods and services—from electricity to hospitals to food to transportation fuel, etc.—that rely on energy transported across the country through the pipelines that pass through other communities and states.

On Powley’s logic, no commerce can ever take place without some form of gangster-style payoff to local tribes. Since every “community” in the nation—including the towns through which the Pipeline would pass—depends in some way on commerce passing through other communities, imagine what would become of people’s lives. Economic vitality would grind to a halt, or close to it.

This is precisely the kind of economic tribal balkinization the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution was intended to prevent (before it was metastasized beyond recognition).

The fact is, every individual has a right to produce and trade with whom they please. People along the trade routes have no claim on “benefits” as a price of “allowing” the trade to proceed. If Pilgrim Pipeline sends crude oil from Albany, NY to Linden, NJ for refinement into gasoline or diesel fuel, that is between the producers in Albany and the refiners in Linden. And although Powley might not need the benefits of the Pilgrim Pipeline—or have a direct opportunity to buy the product passing through the pipeline—what about the people who will buy the fuel passing through the pipeline? Who is Powley to deny them the opportunity to purchase it? Powley is not the only one who needs energy. To be against this pipeline, while continuing to rely on other pipelines that pass through other towns, is—quite frankly—hypocritical.

Of course, local residents do have valid concerns. The owners of the pipeline should be liable for damages resulting from any pollution or harm its pipeline may cause. Property rights should be respected, but may be threatened by eminent domain, which often accompanies the approval of pipeline projects. But to demand “benefit” payoffs as a condition of allowing the pipeline is not a valid reason to override the rights of pipeline companies to produce and trade.

Related Reading:

New Jersey's Pilgrim Pipeline vs. Atlantic City Offshore Wind Farm: It Shouldn’t Be Either/Or

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