Opinion: Politicians block energy infrastructure projects

Robert L. Bradley Jr.
Oil pipeline operator Enbridge moves under the Mackinac Bridge on their way to inspect their controversial Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle and a roving underwater vehicle over several days, the entire five-mile-long pipeline, which rests on supports along the bottom of Lake Michigan, will have been covered by both sonar and visual means.

The recently elected governors of Michigan and Minnesota campaigned on pro-worker platforms. But now that they're in office, they're opposing the construction of new oil pipelines — massive infrastructure projects that would create thousands of local, high-paying jobs and keep prices affordable for consumers.

These two Midwestern governors are not alone. Across the nation, politicians are caving to the demands of radical environmentalists and blocking energy infrastructure projects that would benefit workers and consumers. It's time for this "keep-it-in-the-ground" obstruction to end.

Thanks to remarkable technological advances, America is able to produce about 350 million barrels of crude oil and 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas monthly. Our natural gas production is 50 percent higher than any other country's has ever been. We're also the world's largest oil producer. By the mid-2020s, America is slated to become the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

This production surge has caused fuel and electric prices to decline, resulting in significant savings for American families. In 2015, the average household saved $1,300 thanks to higher natural gas production alone.

But an abundance of natural gas and oil is only useful if companies can transport it to consumers. Because of persistent opposition from state and local politicians, building new energy infrastructure is often quite difficult.

In 2016, activists and local politicians forced energy company Kinder Morgan to shelve a 188-mile, $3 billion pipeline project that would have run through Massachusetts and New Hampshire. By providing cheap, abundant natural gas, the project would have saved New Englanders up to $2.8 billion a year.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey cheered Kinder Morgan's decision. She commissioned a study that found the state's electrical grid didn't need another pipeline. That finding is dubious, considering that just last year Massachusetts had to import natural gas from a Russian company that has been sanctioned by the United States government and praised by Vladimir Putin.

Blocking infrastructure projects takes jobs away from hard-working Americans. Without state-level support for energy infrastructure, the oil and gas industry won't be able to deliver the 1.9 million new jobs it expects to create by 2035. Nearly 40 percent of new energy jobs would be filled by African-Americans and Hispanics. About 290,000 of those jobs would go to women.

Those workers would earn impressive salaries and wages, too. Energy industry positions pay over $100,000 a year on average.

But some politicians don't seem concerned about giving up these economic benefits. Take the projects that Michigan and Minnesota's governors are currently obstructing.

Replacing parts of the Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Minnesota would bring more than 2,000 construction jobs to the state, and over 6,500 jobs total. All told, local workers would receive over $165 million in wages. And it's not just energy workers who would benefit. The Canadian company behind the project pays $30 million in Minnesota property taxes a year. Those taxes help fund schools and local governments.

An update to Michigan's Line 5 crude oil pipeline would inject $500 million into the state economy. The project wouldn't cost taxpayers a single cent.

State government officials have a choice to make: They can either support energy projects that put billions of dollars a year back in Americans' pockets — or continue stalling while their constituents lose out as producers and consumers. 

Let's hope they choose wisely.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.