Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Energetic Advocates Needed

 
Anacortes_Refinery_31911
Anacortes, WA oil refinery, by Walter Siegmund (talk) – Own work, CC BY 2.5.

Some months back, I wrote about the Environmental Kuznets Curve, which posits that, as societies become richer, their citizens can afford the luxury of caring about the environment in ways they currently cannot. I suggested that some of this preference could be expressed through government regulation or taxes on dirtier forms of energy, though said I would oppose these in favor of market-driven means.

As the Wall Street Journal details, this is sort-of happening on the West and East Coasts: Environmentalist groups — sometimes, in conjunction with Native American tribes — have successfully stymied a great deal of fossil fuel development through activism and collaboration with government regulatory mandarins because, ew, carbon. Keystone XL may be the biggest and best known example, but it’s hardly the only one:

The Cherry Point [coal-export terminal] project, proposed in 2011 by port company SSA Marine, was initially for a wider range of exports. But with coal prices high at the time, the developer secured contracts chiefly with coal companies.

“The project was quickly redefined in the public’s mind as simply a coal port,” said Craig Cole, a local consultant who has worked on behalf of the project since 2010.

Coal projects face the biggest challenges, but oil and natural-gas companies are also facing headwinds. One natural-gas pipeline proposed for the Northeast was scrapped and another rejected in recent months.

Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator, said such projects are badly needed. Residential consumers in New York and New England paid between 5% and 41% more than the national average for natural gas in March, the latest month for which data were available. They also paid more for electricity, which itself is increasingly made with natural gas.

But finding ways to move gas into the Northeast has proven difficult. Matthew Piatek, an associate director at consulting firm IHS Energy, said some natural-gas pipeline projects have been delayed by more than a year-and-a-half.

[…]

In late April, Kinder Morgan abandoned a roughly $3 billion project that would have ferried gas to Boston and elsewhere, saying it couldn’t get buy-in from utilities. The project, Northeast Energy Direct, had attracted intense opposition from local activists.

The thing with markets is that they’re not always consumer-driven (topic of yesterday’s post, too), even if consumers do make the ultimate decisions and bear the ultimate responsibility. Especially when costs and gains aren’t immediately apparent, activists steer preferences. When it’s done right, it’s education; more often, it’s just propaganda and pseudoscience.

We all want to breathe clean air and enjoy the benefits of a healthy environment, and our society is good (to a fault) at teaching how the environment can be abused. On the other hand, just about everyone also appreciates the needs to allow people the opportunity to do remunerative work and, literally, keep the lights on.

When these goals conflict, consumers and citizens have to make choices and will, in part, have to rely on advocates. The environmentalists are very good at this game and present themselves plausibly (if wrongly) as disinterested parties who care only about the public good. The energy industry’s contributions to society should speak for themselves — but often don’t — and industry advocates are smeared as self-interested lobbyists, even when they’re correct.

The other side needs its advocates, too, not because the environment doesn’t matter, but because other things do as well.

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  1. Ross C Member
    Ross CJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Good Post Tom.

    My company is the developer of the Constitution Pipeline that recently failed to get a water quality permit from New York State. I was involved in the commercial development of the pipeline, but that work was completed years ago. We are in the process of suing New York over the denial, but who knows how that will turn out. Every time I see one of those New York ready for business commercials I want to yell “Don’t Do It SUCKERS!” at the screen.

    Despite the fact that the pipeline would serve communities that have never had natural gas service before, would displace more expensive shale gas from western Canada (2,000 miles away) with cheaper, more efficiently produced shale gas from Pennsylvania, and in some cases would displace dirtier and or more expensive fuels like coal and fuel oil. Environmentalists will not have it. It is unfortunate that some parts of the country are in danger of becoming infrastructure no-go zones.

    • #1
    • June 2, 2016, at 10:24 AM PDT
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  2. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Ross C: Despite the fact that the pipeline would serve communities that have never had natural gas service before, would displace more expensive shale gas from western Canada (2,000 miles away) with cheaper, more efficiently produced shale gas from Pennsylvania, and in some cases would displace dirtier and or more expensive fuels like coal and fuel oil. Environmentalists will not have it.

    Yes. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a really perverse form of NIMBYism involved. Not the whole story, but part of it.

    • #2
    • June 2, 2016, at 10:28 AM PDT
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  3. Tenacious D Inactive

    Ross C: infrastructure no-go zones

    That’s a phrase that deserves to be popularized.

    • #3
    • June 2, 2016, at 11:09 AM PDT
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  4. Ross C Member
    Ross CJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: here’s a really perverse form of NIMBYism involved.

    I would distill it down to, whatever path is chosen for any given question, no visible harm can come of it. Conversely, harms that you cannot see, like lost jobs, future poverty, lack of development and progress are ironically just fine with progressives. You can’t see that now, it is clearly not their intention, so it need not be considered in the analysis.

    No stream can be crossed, no tree can be cut, nothing can be done. In Claire’s post on Austria, Max Weber’s ethics of responsibility and ethics of conviction were brought up in the context of immigration. We are witnessing the triumph of the conviction over responsibility. Consequences be damned.

    • #4
    • June 2, 2016, at 11:10 AM PDT
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  5. Spin Inactive
    SpinJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I live in the area affected by the coal terminal plans for Cherry Point. It’s downright silly that they’ve blocked that, but it is as you say, “because, ew, carbon”. The coal is still moving through this area, and it is still being shipped to china. It’s just going to Canada first. We were down on the waterfront a few weeks ago, and to get there, you have to cross some rails that carry those coal trains. I said to my brother (who was visiting) “See all the coal those trains dump here on the water front? It’s just terrible!” My son said “Where’s the coal? I want some!” I had to point out that I was being sarcastic.

    • #5
    • June 2, 2016, at 11:44 AM PDT
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  6. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Spin:

    I live in the area affected by the coal terminal plans for Cherry Point. It’s downright silly that they’ve blocked that, but it is as you say, “because, ew, carbon”. The coal is still moving through this area, and it is still being shipped to china. It’s just going to Canada first. We were down on the waterfront a few weeks ago, and to get there, you have to cross some rails that carry those coal trains. I said to my brother (who was visiting) “See all the coal those trains dump here on the water front? It’s just terrible!” My son said “Where’s the coal? I want some!” I had to point out that I was being sarcastic.

    When I saw the picture in the WSJ, I thought “Wow, that looks like Mt. Constitution in the background… oh, it is. Then, when I googled “Oil Refinery,” for the image, I got the Anacortes plant. :)

    • #6
    • June 2, 2016, at 11:56 AM PDT
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  7. Ulysses768 Inactive

    I would guess that a lot of these same activists kept Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant from opening on Long Island. I find the whole anti-carbon movement difficult to take seriously when many of them are also anti-nuclear power. Of course that’s pure conjecture on my part but you certainly don’t hear much pro-nuclear sentiment from the climate change proponents.

    • #7
    • June 2, 2016, at 12:13 PM PDT
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  8. Old Bathos Moderator

    Those who block energy facilities do so out of elitist hatred for the poor and presumably hatred of minorities since they are disproportionately poor.

    It cannot be for environmental reasons since cleaner coal burning standards and technologies have been in effect for decades and no grownup who completed 6th grade math believes that reductions in US coal use will have the slightest measurable impact on “climate change,” especially given that India and China have no intention of reducing theirs.

    If people say that I have no right to impugn the motives of “enviromentalists” I should remind them that whenever I (or like-minded people) call for reducing government spending and increasing government accountability the response is that I must be a racist. People on the left claim the right to determine the motives of those who disagree. So, back at ya, leftoids.

    Besides, if I choose to believe that “environmentalism” is merely a smokescreen for raw elitist hatred for other Americans, that is my right because in Obama’s America, if you like your narrative, you can keep your narrative. It no longer has to be true.

    • #8
    • June 2, 2016, at 12:18 PM PDT
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  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Ulysses768:

    I would guess that a lot of these same activists kept Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant from opening on Long Island. I find the whole anti-carbon movement difficult to take seriously when many of them are also anti-nuclear power. Of course that’s pure conjecture on my part but you certainly don’t hear much pro-nuclear sentiment from the climate change proponents.

    Some environmentalists have apparently backed-off of their (absurd, reprehensible) opposition to nuclear energy. Which is a good thing, so far as it goes.

    Still doesn’t excuse them for it.

    • #9
    • June 2, 2016, at 12:24 PM PDT
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  10. Spin Inactive
    SpinJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Spin:

    I live in the area affected by the coal terminal plans for Cherry Point. It’s downright silly that they’ve blocked that, but it is as you say, “because, ew, carbon”. The coal is still moving through this area, and it is still being shipped to china. It’s just going to Canada first. We were down on the waterfront a few weeks ago, and to get there, you have to cross some rails that carry those coal trains. I said to my brother (who was visiting) “See all the coal those trains dump here on the water front? It’s just terrible!” My son said “Where’s the coal? I want some!” I had to point out that I was being sarcastic.

    When I saw the picture in the WSJ, I thought “Wow, that looks like Mt. Constitution in the background… oh, it is. Then, when I googled “Oil Refinery,” for the image, I got the Anacortes plant. :)

    I took a picture of the Anacortes refinery on my hike the other day:

    IMG_0291

    Well, it is off in the distance, anyway.

    • #10
    • June 2, 2016, at 4:34 PM PDT
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  11. Tenacious D Inactive

    Physical infrastructure can be adapted as needs change. A pipeline built to carry natural gas or dil-bit today could potentially be modified (or at the very least, the right-of-way reused) in the future to carry biodiesel or bio-CNG. I anticipate pipelines to be as important an infrastructure in the 21st century as railroads were in the 20th.
    The social and institutional capital that builds up around these kinds of projects is another factor to consider. There’s a lot of overlap between the skills needed for handling and processing fossil fuels and those required to implement renewable energy on an impactful scale. Trades and professions from welders to control engineers, and even roles on the financial side of things, like hedging energy prices—all are valuable to have around. Processing and transshipment locations for oil & gas will, in my judgment, be well positioned to transition to biofuels when that industry starts to really take off.
    I worry that having the assessment/approval/appeals process on these projects tie up the better part of a decade sets a bad precedent for all sorts of infrastructure investment. Once the time spent on studies exceeds the length of the political cycle, there’s a risk of getting sent back to the drawing board (over and over). A political/regulatory milieu where it’s an exercise in frustration to build anything larger in scope than a condo tower is not conducive to bringing about positive solutions to environmental challenges.

    • #11
    • June 3, 2016, at 12:52 PM PDT
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  12. Tenacious D Inactive

    #11 is lightly adapted from something I wrote on Facebook and my personal blog last year regarding the Energy East pipeline project. I was trying to make the point that rejecting current energy infrastructure development doesn’t make sense as a path to a “green economy”.

    • #12
    • June 3, 2016, at 12:58 PM PDT
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  13. Ross C Member
    Ross CJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tenacious D:#11 is lightly adapted from something I wrote on Facebook and my personal blog last year regarding the Energy East pipeline project. I was trying to make the point that rejecting current energy infrastructure development doesn’t make sense as a path to a “green economy”.

    That is true. The effect of blocking a pipeline like Constitution or Keystone is that the energy must be moved by less efficient means. On a gas pipeline the alternative is often truck/train transport of propane or fuel oil. Keystone’s ban was an boon for railroads. Far less energy efficient far more dangerous.

    • #13
    • June 10, 2016, at 1:17 PM PDT
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