OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

An Energy-Focused Economic Growth Plan a Divided Country Can Agree On

The Trump administration declared the last week of June to be “Energy Week,” announcing that it would focus on “utilizing our abundant domestic energy resources both to create jobs and a growing, prosperous economy at home and to strengthen America’s global influence and leadership abroad.”

Interestingly, that sentiment is closely mirrored by a statement issued by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to describe the Obama administration’s position on the same subject. “The Obama Administration is fully committed to developing our domestic energy resources to create jobs, foster economic opportunities, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil,” he said.

Clearly, both sides share the same view — that the United States has abundant domestic energy resources and that developing those resources creates jobs and fuels economic growth. This broad agreement gives us the chance to put aside our political differences and focus on one area where we can work together to help our economy and our country.

On the need to upgrade our energy infrastructure, there is widespread agreement. We cannot develop our domestic energy resources to their full potential without new infrastructure. Building it will solve problems that both sides want to solve.

Right now the United States is the world’s No. 1 producer of natural gas. Shale formations in places such as North Dakota, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio contain a wealth of energy resources. However, those supplies are being bottlenecked by a lack of adequate midstream infrastructure — simply put, there are not enough pipelines to get this abundant energy to consumers across the country.

New infrastructure such as the Rover Pipeline in the Midwest and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to North Carolina are needed to deliver this natural gas safely and affordably. Dozens of pipeline projects are in development or awaiting regulatory approval. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved nearly 40 major projects last year, and yet many more projects languish under review due to FERC’s lack of quorum.

Building these pipelines will generate employment opportunities, facilitate millions of dollars in investment, and unleash domestic energy resources — all goals held by those on the left and the right. These projects create thousands of high-paying construction jobs, often providing employment for laborers in places where work would otherwise be hard to find. The $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline alone is expected to employ more than 10,000 people during its construction, all of them union members.

And when these pipelines are finished, they will provide lower-cost, cleaner energy to places where it is most needed. Everyone wants more manufacturing in the United States. Well, manufacturers need more natural gas so they can increase output and lower production costs.

The U.S. economy grew by only 1.6 percent last year. The federal government wants to nearly double that rate to 3 percent. Without more economic output, we will have no hope of hitting that ambitious target. Without greater access to lower-cost domestic energy, we will have little hope of making big gains in output.

Most importantly, underground pipelines are the safest means of transporting energy resources. According to a recent Associated Press report, “tens of thousands of … safety defects were found when government inspectors checked the rail lines” carrying crude oil across the country, underscoring the need for viable alternatives to transport our energy resources. Thanks to continuing technological innovations, new pipeline systems are safer and more reliable than ever. Newly constructed pipelines are rigorously tested and inspected prior to operation. Additionally, operators are now able to monitor pipelines around the clock with pressure and temperature sensors and regulation devices.

And further, in the highly unlikely event of a pipeline incident, extensive plans are in place to respond and remediate any adverse effects. These procedures are thoroughly reviewed and approved by state and federal regulators prior to construction, ensuring that coordination among operators and regulatory agencies results in swift and complete restoration of any impacted areas. Through 24/7 monitoring and meticulous planning, pipelines are able to enhance the safety of communities through which they pass.

Ultimately, building the infrastructure we need to fully access our vast supplies of domestic energy will accelerate economic growth while helping us transition to cleaner-burning energy sources. On this, there should be widespread agreement.

 

Albert Wynn, a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives representing the 4th district of Maryland, served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He currently acts as a strategic advisor to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now Coalition.

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