Jan 12, 2015 - 4:45pm

This is How Opposing Keystone XL is Part of a Bigger Anti-Energy Effort


Senior Editor, Digital Content

This week, the Senate begins debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. A Politico Magazine story puts the fight over it in the bigger context of building necessary energy infrastructure projects:

As Keystone’s problems imprint themselves on the nation’s political DNA, environmentalists and local advocacy groups are using the same template that has stalled it for six years to stoke resistance to fossil-fuel projects from coast to coast. Word is out in the oil and gas industry that NIMBY is the new normal. From fuel-starved New England to the refinery country of California, the legacy of the pipeline fight has become an organized and galvanized local resistance to new energy infrastructure.

Anti-energy groups have a term for this relentless opposition: “Blockadia.” Naomi Klein, a leader of the movement explained the term in a 2014 interview:

“Blockadia” is a term that was first coined in the movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas. These are the people who are blocking the fossil fuel projects with their bodies and in the courts and in the streets. And we see these choke-points being developed and people are realizing, “If we block the coal ports in Washington State and Oregon, then there’s no point digging it out in Montana because they’re not going to be able to get the coal shipped out to China. So let’s pour our energy into stopping those coal ports.” And that’s what people have been doing. The same is true of the pipeline fights – and not just against the Keystone Pipeline, but the Northern Gateway Pipeline and others as well.

In the case of pipelines, it’s dramatically lengthened the time needed to plan, permit, and build pipelines, which has cost people jobs and denied local communities economic growth and tax revenue.

But for activists, creating delays isn't enough. In her Politico Magazine piece, Elana Schor, quotes how extreme Klein and her fellow activists are:

“But the French anti-fracking activists have a slogan, ‘Ni ici, ni ailleurs,’ “not here or anywhere,’” the Canadian activist added. “And that’s really the spirit of it. It’s drawing the line. And you often hear that slogan whether people are fighting pipelines or fighting fracking or coal export terminals up and down the Pacific Northwest.”

They don’t want oil, natural gas, or used at all and are abusing the permitting process to do it. This runs counter to the fact that fossil fuels are cheap and abundant. In its Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration expects fossil fuels to be used in about the same proportions for decades to come.

Unfortunately by disrupting the normal process for approving energy infrastructure projects with endless Keystone XL delays the Obama administration has fed these opposition groups. It’s turned opposition from being NIMBY--Not In My Backyard--to BANANA--Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy explained the BANANA phenomenon to House Members in 2013:

Indeed, the Keystone XL delay is a symptom of a much bigger and costly problem. Much of our energy infrastructure is increasingly inadequate to meet current and projected demand. Providing energy is a long and capital-intensive undertaking, and new energy infrastructure projects require long lead times and massive amounts—tens of trillions of dollars over the next few decades—of new investment.

Unfortunately, our energy sector suffers from a lengthy, unpredictable, and needlessly complex regulatory maze that delays, and often halts, the construction of new energy infrastructure. Federal and state siting and permitting reviews and rules are used routinely to block the construction and expansion of needed energy infrastructure.

For example, installation of required transmission infrastructure has not kept pace with investments in new power generation; export terminals for both LNG and coal face lengthy approval processes from multiple agencies; and limitations on access to federal onshore and offshore lands in Alaska is challenging the operating capacity of Trans Alaska Pipeline System.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of issues created by our shortsighted and complex permitting and regulatory system.

Despite anti-energy obstructionists’ agitation, the public continues to support energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline symbolizes a dysfunctional federal permitting process that must be streamlined. As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it will need ready access to energy. Without adequate and reliable energy infrastructure, sustained growth for our 21st Century economy will be impossible. Jobs will be lost and wages will stagnate.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.