The PennEast pipeline, which I have written often about, is apparently nearing completion of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval process (It’ll be issuing an environmental assessment on Friday, April 7, according to the article by Tom Gilbert cited below). This prompted a guest op-ed by a Tom Gilbert of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. In “PennEast Pipeline a threat to all New Jerseyans,” Gilbert gave some of the usual reasons for FERC to kill the project, such as the “threat” to water, and that is “not needed.”
But these reasons are rationalizations to advance a wider anti-energy ideological agenda. The first lines tell it all:
The debate over massive proposed oil and gas pipelines is heating up both nationally and locally.
New Jersey has been facing an onslaught of gas pipeline proposals in recent years, leading many residents to wonder how many, if any, are actually needed. It’s an important question because the construction and operation of gas pipelines pose serious consequences for our health, communities and wallets.
Reading this article, you’d think that clean safe water just magically pours out of our faucets by the grace of nature—no infrastructure needed. You’d never know that clean water could never reach our homes and buildings without the reliable affordable energy such as that which will be delivered through the PennEast pipeline. Clean water is rarely available in nature. It must be purified and pumped to us. That takes reliable, affordable energy. You’d never know that we have 2.3 million miles of existing pipelines delivering natgas energy to tens of millions of people to heat their homes and cook their food, and to power plants that generate our electricity, without creating a water or pollution crisis. You’d think pipelines have no value, yet without them most of us wouldn't even be alive and the rest would be living in poverty. The producers of reliable, increasingly clean, affordable, available-on-demand, plentiful energy—primarily fossil fuels—is the industry that drives every other industry. Deny this energy, and the humanitarian harm will be incalculable.
Yet, potential of their policies for causing such harm doesn’t concern the anti-pipeline movement. The dirty little secret of the PennEast opponents is that they don’t give a hoot about the people of NJ, or of people in general. They are part of a national anti-pipeline movement that NJ Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine calls “a jihad on pipelines [by] radical environmentalists . . . on the theory that if you choke off delivery you can eventually choke off production” of fossil fuels—pretty much admitted by way of the disdainful way Gilbert speaks of new pipeline proposals in the first couple of sentences. They aim to progressively starve Americans of the reliable energy they need to live and flourish, and have chosen pipelines as the choke point to accomplish that sinister goal. Why? They—the environmentalists/conservationists—are motivated by an anti-humanist moral standard; that nature in its unimpacted state takes precedence over human well-being, and they aim to “conserve” nature at human expense. Fundamentally, they are against development on principle, their “renewable energy” fantasies notwithstanding.
But human beings survive and thrive only by impacting nature so as to change the danger-filled environment nature gives us into an environment conducive to human safely and well-being. To favor unaltered nature is to oppose human flourishing—a cruel goal, indeed.
As to the economic argument presented here, the author talks out of both sides of his mouth. He simultaneously claims the pipeline is not “needed,” while asserting that the pipeline owners will make money from it. But you can’t have it both ways. Money making, or profits, are only earned by delivering a product that consumers will buy. If it’s not needed, consumers won’t buy it; hence, no profits. Fortunately, the profit-motivated builders of pipelines, like all builders of large expensive industrial projects, don’t just look at today’s market. They project consumer needs years and decades ahead, and are willing to risk their capital on the rightness of their projections.
My only agreement with Gilbert is this: I sympathize with the eminent domain argument against the pipeline. I have long argued that eminent domain is un-American, however it is used. Ideally, PennEast and other private companies should have to reach voluntary, mutually beneficial agreements with landowners its project crosses, or find another way. But I don’t believe for a minute that Gilbert cares about the victims of eminent domain. After all, these “conservationists” are the same people who rush to applaud environmental regulations and development restrictions imposed on private landowners that amount to uncompensated takings, such as the Pinelands and Highlands preservation acts. Their concern for the victims of eminent domain is window dressing.
Eminent domain is an injustice. But we must always look at the big picture. The greater injustice is the danger posed by the environmentalists’ assault on new pipelines. Indicating the anti-pipeline movement’s disdain for human well-being, Gilbert trots out the assertion that pipeline approvals “further. . . our dependence on dirty fossil fuels delays the clean, affordable energy future (think wind and solar).” This is pretty much an admission that solar and wind cannot replace fossil fuels, and that he doesn’t give a damn. If solar and wind truly were a superior energy technology, they would have already displaced fossil fuels in the market—especially given the hundreds of $billions worth of government subsidies they receive. But even without the subsidies, they win out. In a free market, superior technologies don’t need government to crush the older. Just as digital photography didn’t need to block film photography to win out, solar and wind don’t need to block pipelines to win out if they are really viable alternatives. Investors would willingly shift their investments to solar and wind without subsidies. Anti-fossil fuel crusaders know that solar and wind, as reliable economical alternatives, are crap. But they don’t care, except to say that someone, somewhere, will somehow make the impossible work.
Thank God for pipeline builders and their “onslaught” of new oil and gas pipeline proposals, both here and nationally. The energy we’ll need to live tomorrow depends on the investments these industrialists make today.
The ‘Jihad on Pipelines,’ New Jersey Front, which features a reprinting of my public comments posted to FERC’s website.
The Secret History of Fossil Fuels—Chapter One, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein