Thursday, October 29, 2015

The ‘National Interest’ and the ‘Need’ for the PennEast Pipeline

Here is the first of my responses to two correspondents who replied to my comments on the article about the PennEast company’s proposed natural gas pipeline by Lehigh Valley Live’s John Sievers, which was the subject of my last post.

I think these correspondents highlight some valid concerns. But I addressed two I believe offer no justifiable validity for stopping the pipeline.

First, readseneca wrote:

“PennEast has failed to demonstrate that there is a need. The application calls for demonstrating a ‘public interest’ for the project. They have not done this.”

Of course they haven’t. That would be impossible, since the term “public interest” is undefinable. The “public interest” is a cognitively useless term, and it is a travesty that it is part of the approval process. There can’t be a public interest, because “public” is not an entity. It is a floating abstraction. When you try to concretize “public,” the only observable entities that come into focus are individuals, each with his own interests—and needs. When you invoke the “public interest,” you’re asserting that your interests take precedence over other individuals’ interests. “Public interest” doctrine turns everyone against everyone else, each declaring “the public, c’est moi,” leaving no fair and objective basis for settling disputes. This is why I said “maybe nothing PennEast’s representatives say will satisfy opponents.” The fact that PennEast has customers lined up proves that the gas is needed. But that fact won’t sway irrational opponents. Why? Because “public interest” provides the rationalization to declare that PennEast’s future customers are not part of the public—and thus reject out-of-hand anything PennEast says. Invoking the “public interest” is an easy out for anyone looking to make an end run around rational discussion and run roughshod over others, by virtue of the fact that the term in undefinable—exactly what opponents are doing, in my observation.

What right do pipeline opponents have to declare, “the public, c’est moi?” No one has a right to arbitrarily dictate what other consumers need or don’t need. There is only one objective mechanism for determining the “need” for any product or service—the market; i.e., the voluntary choices of consumers. Since PennEast projects a demand for its natural gas, it has the right to invest and build to meet that demand. What right does anyone have to deny any consumer the opportunity to buy the energy from the pipeline that, by that consumer’s own judgement, she needs?

“‘We’ don’t need it because I don’t need it” is not an answer. You say “There is nothing irrational about people's resistance to this line.” But “If NYC were having power outages, it might be a different story” is just such irrationality. Denying others the energy they need until after their lights go out, with the immense disruption to their lives that implies—at which point you “might” reconsider—is not only irrational but cruel.  

Related Reading:

No More Energy Pyramids

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