Posted on January 25, 2021 by Seth Jaffe
Last week, President Biden hit the ground running on environmental policy, issuing an Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. There’s a lot in it, so I think I’m going to have to take it in blog-sized bites. Let’s start with Section 6, in which he revoked the Presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Why start here?
Well, it’s a big deal, any way you look it. It’s pretty much the end for large fossil fuel pipeline construction in the US. According to Bloomberg (subscription required), here’s what Alan Armstrong, CEO of the Williams Companies, had to say about it:
“I can’t imagine going to my board and saying, ‘we want to build a new greenfield pipeline’. “I do not think there will be any funding of any big cross-country greenfield pipelines, and I say that because of the amount of money that’s been wasted.”
OK. But there’s also another reason why this is important. Creating a new, renewable electricity grid is going to require substantial new transmission capacity. In terms of direct impacts, there isn’t necessarily much difference between siting a pipeline and siting a transmission line. They can both cause damage to wetlands and endangered species.
The difference between them is simple and stark. Fossil fuel pipelines lead to greater GHG emissions, while new transmission is necessary to reduce GHG emissions. And so much for the Trump administration’s efforts to minimize consideration of indirect impacts from infrastructure projects. It’s all about the indirect impacts!
It can be a fine line between one person’s NIMBY and another person’s legitimate environmental concerns. I sure hope we figure out how to assess environmental costs and benefits in infrastructure siting sooner rather than later, or that grid we’re all counting on to deliver zero-carbon electricity won’t be there when we need it.