Trump’s infrastructure plan is an energy security plan, too

Trump’s infrastructure plan is an energy security plan, too
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s unique ability to zip across partisan lines was on full display during his State of the Union address, and his call for a $1.5 trillion dollar infrastructure proposal holds promise for bipartisan resolve to address America’s infrastructure needs.

From the start, the administration had made clear this plan will include expanding America’s energy infrastructure, but there are substantial perils ahead to fully unleash our “nation of builders.” 

This year began with some of the coldest temperatures on record, meaning that the obstacles to rebuilding and expanding energy infrastructure could not come at a worse time. In the Northeast, the lack of adequate energy infrastructure has resulted in the U.S. having to import liquefied natural gas to Boston from a sanctioned company in Russia, by way of the U.K. At a time when American crude oil production is booming, and there is talk of the U.S. soon toppling Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer, this is an unsettling fact.

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The reality is that the boom in oil production lacks the takeaway capacity needed to get it where it needs to go. Existing pipelines in the production regions are operating at or near their full capacities

Even if producers can get oil out of the ground to serve America’s needs — not to mention export to countries like Mexico, Canada, Poland, and others — the constraints and limitations of our nation’s energy infrastructure means that it cannot get across the country to homes in Amherst as easily as it can get across the ocean to Amsterdam.

Now more than ever, what the United States needs is a bipartisan consensus to move forward on a 21st century infrastructure plan that harnesses the natural resources we have. Unfortunately, today’s political environment presents real peril to addressing this pressing need. 

In the era of hashtag activism we are living in, the #resistance against President Trump, elected Republicans, and any policies they may support makes any infrastructure plan being enacted at the federal level difficult to achieve. It is even more difficult given the president’s proclivities to offend his opponents and get distracted from his policy messaging. 

As if that were not enough, the energy industry is facing greater scrutiny from state and local regulators and environmental activists than ever before. Environmental activists make up a vocal portion of the base on the left of the political spectrum.

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In the aftermath of the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline in the winter of 2016, they have been emboldened to target not just other pipeline projects in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and other states across the U.S., but to pressure the state and local officials and regulatory agencies that can derail or delay energy infrastructure projects, including city councils and even local water boards.

Regardless of what may be achieved at the federal level, the greatest peril for investing in energy infrastructure is this activism that is pressuring state officials, straining local law enforcement, and disrupting approvals and construction.

For examples of how a once noncontroversial policy of transporting American fossil fuels across the country become politicized, one need not look further than Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s ban on fracking in his state last year and New York Democratic Gov. and potential 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Cuomo, who would rather see the northeastern U.S. import energy from overseas to placate his base in a future primary rather than support policies that transport American energy to where Americans need it.

The abundance of American energy is something that should be celebrated and utilized to its fullest extent, not only to keep families warm in the winter, but to create jobs here at home, ensure energy security for ourselves and for our allies and partners around the world, and power the next generation of innovation in our 21st century world. We can build this future, but it will require us first overcoming the political activism holding us back.

Jeff Berkowitz is the founder & CEO of Delve, a Washington-based competitive intelligence firm that helps companies anticipate and mitigate political and reputational risk. Before founding Delve, Jeff managed research and messaging operations for the George W. Bush White House, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the U.S. Department of State.