Here are a few of my favorite things: heat and air conditioning, my car, refrigerator and killer stereo. I also love lights, though I wish my kids would learn how to turn them off. The two times we lost power for a week – once during an ice storm – convinced me I would have been one sorry cave man.
That’s why I support construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would deliver 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Virginia and North Carolina.
It will help ensure a necessity we just take for granted – reliable power. Fossil fuels remain the irreplaceable engine of every modern convenience; they are the chief reason life is no longer short, nasty and brutish.
The project is already a year behind schedule as the environmental lobby uses political pressure, the courts and often misleading information to stall a worthy project.
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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already deemed the $6 billion project safe, but Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration continues to throw up roadblocks to appease its green base.
The latest obstacle is the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s request for more information about the plan’s economic benefits. Okey dokey.
Don’t get me wrong, the right of citizens to challenge corporate proposals and government plans is one of our democracy’s greatest strengths. But instead of only targeting gross abuses, environmental groups file knee-jerk lawsuits against, well, almost everything. These tactics cost time and money, resulting in higher rates that hit the poor especially hard.
The main arguments against the pipeline – that it is unsafe and environmentally dangerous – are unpersuasive.
Safety: Today, close to 3 million miles of pipeline carry oil and gas from the ground to our homes and cars. Yes, hundreds of accidents occur each year. But the department of transportation reports that their relative spill rate – 0.66 per billion ton-miles – is far less than that of the two other ways to move the product, railways (2.20) and roads (7.11).
The environment: One would never guess from press reports fretting about America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate talks, but the United States has led the developed world in reductions of carbon dioxide emissions since 2006 (an 11 percent decline). Reduced economic activity because of the Great Recession explains some of this, but the real hero is the natural gas fracking boom.
The science is clear; natural gas is about twice as clean as coal. In 2003, coal accounted for half of all U.S. power generation; in 2015, it provided just one-third, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
This is not a response to government regulation. Instead, the EIA says it is “mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices.”
As we extract even more natural gas, America can boost exports to China and other nations reliant on coal. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is part of this effort to move toward a brighter future.
For pipeline opponents, those facts are less important than their ideological commitment to renewable energy. Like them, I look forward to the day when the sun and wind power my modern lifestyle.
But that day is still far off. Despite generous government subsidies, renewables still provide only about 15 percent of America’s electricity. In 2016, wind provided almost 6 percent of the nation’s electricity and solar less than 1 percent – hydroelectric came in at 7 percent, according to the EIA.
Because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, renewables must piggyback on traditional power sources to ensure uninterrupted service.
Despite the claims of environmentalists, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will not retard development of the burgeoning green energy sector. Massive investments are already being made to solve its major problem: developing cost-effective high-capacity batteries that can store energy generated by renewables. That will be the game-changer – along, I hope, with a reconsideration of our best source of clean and reliable energy: nuclear power.
When renewables become an affordable alternative, Americans will embrace them. That’s the beauty and power of the free market.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t let imagined perfection be the enemy of the demonstrable good. Fracking has been a godsend for our economy and the environment. We should embrace its potential until American ingenuity figures out how to make the sun, wind and water vast sources of reliable and affordable power. It is those breakthroughs, rather than unnecessary lawsuits and regulatory delays, that will allow us to turn off the lights on fossil fuels.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at email@example.com.