Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PennEast Pipeline Objections Don’t Add Up

The Jihad against pipelines being waged by the Environmentalists usually features heavily biased one-sidedness rooted in a small-picture viewpoint. Consider a letter published in the Hunterdon County Democrat titled Don't believe the feel-good claims about the PennEast pipeline. PennEast Pipeline company has applied for federal approval to run a natural gas pipeline through Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

I left these comments, rebutting point by point the objections offered by the writer The italicized quotes are the writer’s:

The pipeline objections presented here don’t add up.

“They claim pipelines are ‘safer’ than oil trains, which is like saying lung cancer is ‘safer’ than liver cancer.”

Pipelines are much safer. As the NJ Star-Ledger observed:

[T]here are enough studies, notably from the Department of Transportation’s pipeline agency, that suggest pipelines are the safest form of energy transport -- especially when the technology is new.

Comparing pipelines to cancer is like condemning food, because you are condemning the energy our lives depend upon. There are 2.6 million miles of pipelines delivering the energy of life across America. To focus only on the risks of the pipeline without also considering the incredible life-serving benefits—and the risks of not having pipelines—is so irrationally biased as to border on insanely cruel. What do you think would happen to your life, if those pipelines ceased to operate? Or are you content to continue enjoying the benefits of pipelines passing through other people’s communities, while denying PennEast’s future customers the same benefits?

“The damage they will do to the Sourlands and the Delaware River is inestimable.”

Damage—by what standard? On a standard of human well-being as a value, the pipeline is an improvement  to the Sourland, and to the environment, based on the vital necessity to human life of the energy being delivered.

“PennEast claims that all of this gas is for Pennsylvania and New Jersey customers, but their own spokeswoman said ‘For now it is for utility companies only.’”

Of course. Utilities’ job is to deliver the gas to the end user. Besides, it’s irrelevant who buys the gas. You have no more right to dictate to whom PennEast’s gas is sold than Everett, Washington residents have to stop Boeing from selling planes to China—or Flat Rock, Michigan citizens have to forbid you from buying a Ford Fusion from Ford’s Flat Rock plant.

Of course, I hope the gas is made available here. Maybe then I’d finally have gas mains laid in my street, so I could get rid of my oil-fired heating system in favor of natgas (even though Andrea Bonette would deny me that access).

“Their published claims of New Jersey households in need of gas are wildly inflated . . .”

“Inflated,” by whose estimate? Not by PennEast’s future customers’ judgement. You have no right to decide for others whether they need the gas or not. If there really is no need, there will be no customers. But as of last March, 96% of the gas has been reserved by purchasers. But again, every individual customer has a right to decide for themselves whether they need the gas or not. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. But don’t stand in my way.

“They say they will lower gas prices to consumers, but someone has to pay for this billion-dollar pipeline - and their SEC filings indicate it will be their customers, not their shareholders, who pay for it.”

First, as Bloomberg reports, natural gas prices are up to 35 times higher in the Northeast than other areas, including nearby Pennsylvania, thanks to “a dearth of pipelines.”

Second, there are no customers until the pipeline is up and running, so clearly the investors, not the customers, are paying for the construction. Customers will pay for the gas, by voluntary agreement with the suppliers—hopefully at a price that enables PennEast and its investors to recoup their cost and earn a profit for the energy value they deliver to their customers. That would be win-win.

“Their claims about the thousands of jobs it will create rarely mention their own report's statement: ‘The workforce for the Project is likely to be composed of personnel from across the country due to the specialized nature of pipeline construction.’”

So? Most jobs are related in some way to the nation and the world, due to the interconnectedness of national and world economic activity. Of course, the pipeline would create and sustain myriad jobs in myriad industries, because almost every job in an advanced industrial economy is reliant on energy, and pipelines are an integral part of our energy infrastructure. But the absolute number of jobs, who fills them, and from where the job-fillers come is irrelevant. In fact, due to the complexity of the economy, it’s virtually impossible to determine how many jobs this pipeline will ultimately support. What’s not in dispute is that it will support jobs, because without energy, almost all of our jobs would be impossible. One thing is certain: Anti-pipeline means anti-jobs.

“Their cost for this is lower than normal market value because property with conservation or farmland easements is appraised lower.”

And these property owners were paid, at taxpayer expense, for the reduced value of their land’s “preserved” status. Thank the state for keeping property values “lower than normal market value.”

But this is really beside the point. It’s sad that Bonette goes on and on about irrelevancies, while she ignores the one legitimate objection to pipeline approval—the “elephant in the room,” eminent domain. If property owners’ rights were properly protected, PennEast would have to offer property owners what the easement is worth to them, because the property owner would retain his inalienable right to say “no.” True market value would be determined by voluntary agreement between land owner and PennEast. Without eminent domain, PennEast might have to give the landowner regular payments for the use of his land. Or perhaps profit sharing, natural gas supplies at a discount or no charge, or whatever innovative compensation arrangement PennEast and the property owner voluntarily work out. When everyone's rights  are protected—the right to produce and trade, contractual rights, property rights—disputes are resolved on a level legal playing field. Rather than fight an irrational battle against the pipeline, residents should be demanding that PennEast renounce the use of eminent domain.

You’d think the enormous life-giving value of reliable, affordable energy would be obvious to everyone. But the irrational Jihad on Pipelines shows otherwise. This letter proves that PennEast’s opponents are grasping at straws, and are irrationally biased, non-objective, and one-sided in their arguments.

Related Reading:

The ‘Jihad on Pipelines,’ New Jersey Front

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