Opinion

Activists Threaten Tens of Billions in Investment that Could Aid COVID-19 Economic Recovery

Attacks on traditional (and, increasingly, renewable) energy projects remain a confounding and troubling trend in the United States, and it’s one that puts particular special interests of a few activists and their ideological, political and commercial allies above the needs of ordinary families and small businesses.

The intransigence of this “Dr. No” method of activism is predicated on driving up costs through litigation, and viewing every stage of the regulatory and permitting processes as an opportunity to sue and protest. It’s gotten so far out of hand that — at the urging of anti-energy groups — even certain judges are going back to federally approved projects that are already in safe operation and trying to shut them down.

Leaving the danger of such judicial activism aside, well-funded anti-energy litigation is bad enough in ordinary economic times because it stalls or destroys the substantial investment these projects make in local communities, or creates higher end-user costs. That translates to families, people on low or fixed incomes and small businesses all bearing a higher – and thoroughly avoidable – energy burden; one they cannot afford, especially now in these uncertain times.

Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic’s harsh economic fallout and the government budget shortfalls that has engendered, and we have a recipe for thoroughly avoidable disaster.

Examining just 14 states, ongoing anti-energy activism is threatening at least $13.6 billion in economic activity, over 66,000 jobs and more than $280 million a year in state and local tax revenue, according to a new report by Consumer Energy Alliance that for the first time quantifies the potential and actual economic harm of anti-energy activism. Looking at a representative national sample of states, many of them among the hardest-hit economically by COVID, the report examines the risk to private investments that are ready to be made in struggling states to meet both energy needs and spur jobs and other economic activity.

The CEA report details how the efforts of pipeline opponents and their allies to champion lawsuits, procedural delays, and regulatory roadblocks to stop construction projects are hindering economic recovery and destroying – or already have destroyed – billions in consumer savings through lower energy bills. Consider these findings:

  • Opposition against infrastructure in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania risks more than $3.5 billion in economic activity and more than 17,000 mostly union jobs, plus nearly $52 million a year in tax revenues. The recently canceled Northeast Supply Enhancement project alone would have saved residential customers 65 percent on their utility bills and prevented the annual carbon emissions equivalent of 500,000 cars from polluting the atmosphere.
  • Actual or potential economic harm to Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina includes 17,000 jobs already lost plus $2.7 billion in economic activity and $7.5 billion in projected energy savings.
  • Blocking the Line 5 Tunnel Project would destroy $5.4 billion a year in economic activity in Ohio and southeast Michigan.  
  • Failure to advance the Keystone XL expansion will destroy $3.4 billion in investment, 10,400 jobs and $55 million in local annual tax revenue across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
  • Possible shutdown of other pipeline projects threatens significant economic activity and lost jobs in Minnesota, the upper Midwest and other states west of the Mississippi River – even though these and the other projects provide the best environmental protections by introducing state-of-the-art technologies to reduce emissions and increase safety where none existed before .

Here’s the upshot: The campaign to impede America’s vital energy infrastructure projects puts the desires and politics of the few against the economic needs of the many – and of our nation.

We’d be foolish to let anyone, for any reason, shove aside these immediate injections of private capital because it will slow our economic recovery at the expense of countless families and businesses who are just trying to get back on their feet again.

And perversely, the opposition carried out under the flag of environmental protection is actually doing the opposite: All of these projects will provide the best environmental protections available because they introduce state-of-the-art technologies to reduce emissions and increase safety where none existed before. It’s a careful-what-you-wish-for lesson that unfortunately remains unlearned.  Simply put, building these pipelines will improve our already globe-leading environmental success.

Our policymakers must find the courage to say no to politically motivated anti-energy groups that lack a reasonable plan to help get America back on its feet. Their fact-free opposition to our energy needs only harms ordinary people and businesses. And it erases the chance for immediate environmental gains.

David Holt is a founder and president of Consumer Energy Alliance, which represents energy consumers including families, farmers, manufacturers and small businesses.

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