Here’s one of the most enduring contradictions of a particular brand of anti-energy activism to which some state attorneys general and certain ideologically motivated interests groups are subscribing: blocking every energy infrastructure project — be it wind, solar, oil, gas or nuclear — by litigating it into oblivion and ignoring its notable environmental improvement, without offering an alternative to meet the most basic energy needs of our communities; and then complaining about the exact situation their litigation created: higher energy prices for low-income communities, fewer employment opportunities, and slower progress toward shared environmental goals.
Lessons remain unlearned, every single time.
A good example is the recent clamor by activist groups, the District of Columbia, and 14 state attorneys general, including Minnesota’s, suing over a new federal rule to make it easier to transport liquefied natural gas by train. Here’s the irony: These same activists and attorneys general have been the biggest opponents of the safest way to move energy to families and local businesses, which is pipelines.
It is hard to believe they didn’t know that trains would be the likely alternative when they so vigorously opposed pipelines, which U.S. government data show have a 99.9999% safety record. That has not stopped ideological permit denials that, perversely, lead to less environmentally sound choices.
Consider Minnesota’s opposition and radical environmental groups’ objections to the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. The new line would safely deliver 760,000 barrels a day when completed. Making up that daily transportation capacity would require 4,000 tanker trucks — more than 32 miles of trucks if parked bumper to bumper — to cross our state every day. The emissions are infinitely higher, let alone the wear and tear to our highways.
It boggles the mind to understand how those who raise money in the name of protecting the environment ignore the science on how we can actually offer factually proven, real-world ways to protect it right now.
So it should come as little surprise that there is increased demand for the rail transport of liquefied natural gas. To hear its opponents tell it, it is as if the Department of Transportation’s rule-making for transporting liquefied natural gas by rail happened without the rigorous environmental and safety reviews required by laws that Democrats and Republicans, working together, enacted.
In fact, the decision required the adoption of a higher standard of tank car design, which has thicker steel and has been approved for decades for shipments of liquid ethane, ethylene, and other flammable materials.
Yet, environmental groups and Minnesota’s attorney general contend that transporting liquefied natural gas by rail raises the risk of a major explosion. They ignore the current regulations and rely on novel claims that disregard existing science.
A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the safety of transporting energy liquids and gases by rail emphasized that the vast majority of these energy supplies have been transported without incident.
Which brings us to why the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is among those opposing the rail transport of liquefied natural gas. Could it be because New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center is paying for a special assistant attorney general in the AG’s office? This center was established with $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to provide privately funded lawyers to state attorneys general who request them, as long as their planned litigation matches the program’s climate goals, which include opposing oil and gas pipeline projects.
Compare this group of activist political attorneys general to the list of states with Bloomberg-funded lawyers, and you find that seven of the states that sued and the District of Columbia all have them.
We all need to ask a few important questions about the opposition to the safest means of energy transportation and about the criticisms of other methods that have rigorous, state-of-the-art safety protocols.
If someone is against one method, we should ask what alternative they propose and how it improves environmental stewardship. If the solution is one that doesn’t lead to a cleaner environment right now, then we should be skeptical that environmental protection is the real goal.
Next, we should ask about the impact on energy prices and availability. Minnesota families, small businesses, and people with low or fixed incomes deserve affordable and reliable energy. A path that says no to every option to deliver it only ends in higher prices and less reliability. That’s something we don’t need as we claw our way out of the economic wreckage of the COVID-19 crisis.
Chris Ventura of Columbus, Ohio, is the Midwest director of Consumer Energy Alliance (consumerenergyalliance.org), a nonprofit that advocates for affordable reliable energy. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.