Energy infrastructure investment can unlock jobs, energy security
Spring weather is finally here, but some New Yorkers haven’t forgotten being left in the cold when their homes lost heat over the winter. In the cold, but not in the dark when it comes to the solution: build more pipelines. That’s the plea from tenants at seven New York City Housing Authority developments, who recently wrote a public letter urging construction of a proposed natural gas pipeline, stating: “As we learned with [Superstorm] Sandy, without reliable energy infrastructure, our residents can easily lose power and heat.”
Northeastern state officials don’t seem interested – obstructing one pipeline project after another, even pipelines approved by federal regulators after exhaustive reviews. Failure to invest in energy infrastructure is a big reason New York’s electricity costs have been running as much as 50 percent above the national average. Same for Boston, which actually welcomed a tanker containing Russian natural gas earlier this year. All the while, plenty of U.S. natural gas is available in nearby Pennsylvania – one of the leading natural gas-producing states in the world’s leading natural gas-producing nation.
New England is a case study in the costs of self-imposed infrastructure constraints, but the region’s troubles also illustrate the flipside: the benefits of infrastructure opportunity. Communities across the nation who embrace those opportunities can enjoy not just affordable, reliable energy but jobs – including well-paying, middle-class sustaining construction jobs. Besides the roads, bridges and buildings usually in the spotlight when policymakers talk about investing in U.S. infrastructure, 32 percent of today’s construction industry workforce is employed on energy projects, amounting to over 2 million workers. Pipeline construction alone supports more than 41,700 jobs for union workers each year, generating over $2.3 billion in wages.
And those numbers could grow. Our road to the top in world natural gas and oil production has led to growing production in some new areas – areas not always well-connected to the existing energy transportation network. Even established production regions like the Permian Basin in Texas are straining pipeline capacity because production has grown so much. Expanding energy infrastructure to keep pace with the U.S. energy renaissance spells major job opportunities. Private sector investment in energy infrastructure could total $1.34 trillion by 2035 –supporting more than 1 million jobs each year on average, according to a recent ICF study. Skilled workers from the construction and energy industries are ready to go – recently launching a joint pipeline construction safety training program to expand opportunities and reinforce safe practices.
These are essential, shovel-ready projects that don’t rely on taxpayer dollars. But they do hinge on a fair, efficient permitting process. That’s where recent proposals by the administration and Congress to streamline infrastructure review can make a welcome difference. Setting clear timelines for agencies to complete reviews and permitting decisions, clarifying the roles of state and federal agencies in reviewing water quality permits, preventing agencies from blocking permits prior to an application or pulling them back unjustly, and providing equal treatment for rights-of-way for all modes of infrastructure on federally controlled lands, will go a long way toward removing hurdles that delay important projects.
Eighty-one percent of American voters support increased energy infrastructure development. For the few who oppose pipeline projects, some key facts might make a difference. For one, natural gas and oil pipelines deliver their products at a safety rate of 99.99 percent, according to the most recent data. That makes pipelines one of the safest, most efficient ways to transport the energy homes and businesses need. And make no mistake, we need natural gas and oil. Even under optimistic scenarios for renewable energy growth, government projections show these resources will supply an estimated 60 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2040. Natural gas is an essential partner that enables integration of intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar – providing reliable power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine – and it’s a clean fuel in its own right. The United States leads the world in the reduction of carbon emissions, which have reached 25-year lows due largely to greater use of natural gas in power generation.
But before communities can see the benefits of U.S. energy, we need to build the infrastructure to get it to them. America’s energy and building industries are ready with the skilled workers and technology to get the job done. By enacting reforms to streamline infrastructure approval, Congress and the Trump administration can cut the red tape so we can start the ribbon-cuttings on job-creating, community-sustaining pipeline projects.
Jack Gerard is president and CEO, American Petroleum Institute and Terry O’Sullivan is general president of Laborers’ International Union of North America