“Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie. And sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose.” Gloria Clemente, “White Men Can’t Jump”
Headlines across the country mirrored the one July 6 in Barron’s: “Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled, move cheered by environmentalists.”
Cheering? Seriously? In recent years, I have been mystified by the hostility toward investment in oil and natural gas infrastructure. As if somehow forcing the use of rail, truck, or an older pipeline system to transport oil or natural gas would magically improve the environment. I can only describe it as the politicization of infrastructure investment, the logic being that if oil and natural gas utilities lose, the environment wins.
As evidenced by the 2017 passage of the state roads and bridges bonds amendment and every survey I have seen in the last five years, West Virginians support infrastructure investment, including fossil fuel transportation. The construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline embodied almost everything we strive to create: export dollars for West Virginia natural resources, $10 million every month for West Virginia construction workers’ wages and a replacement for higher carbon, more expensive energy for the residents of Virginia and the Carolinas.
My father repeatedly told me, “West Virginians are three times more motivated by what they are against than what they support.” While the number of pipeline opponents might have been few, their persistence starting from the announcement of the project more than doubled the anticipated costs and stalled final installation by more than three years. Opponents’ tenacity in challenging permits extended to the Supreme Court, which last month sided with developers in a 7-2 decision over whether the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to issue a special use permit. Losing in the Supreme Court turned out to be winning for opponents. Excessive delay and increased costs led Dominion and Duke Energy to finally throw in towel and cancel the project.
It’s damn easy to figure out what has been lost, but for the life of me I can’t ascertain who won. Traveling around West Virginia, one can’t help noticing how hard it is to build new things. Nearly every community has its own tale of missed opportunities, including promised highways, plants, regional airports and retail centers that never came into being.
HD Media and the Charleston Gazette-Mail have a long and proud history of reporting on and supporting the efforts of those who protect the air and water in our communities. But, like Billy after he runs a successful pickup game hustle but loses Gloria, the love of his life, opponents might ask whether they really won.
A day after the Atlantic Coast project halted, stock prices skyrocketed for Equitrans Midstream, the company building the rival Mountain Valley Pipeline. Warren Buffett purchased Dominion’s natural gas transmission assets on the cheap.
Today, it’s a pipeline. Tomorrow, it will be a different group of winners. Maybe opponents will thwart a solar installation or a recycling center. And tomorrow, just like today, we will all be the losers.