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Debunking This Morning’s “Slow Boring” Article, Which Argues, “Let Joe Manchin have his pipeline already”

There are numerous questionable, unsupported, and/or false statements in this article regarding natural gas in general and the Mountain Valley Pipeline specifically.

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Where to even begin debunking this morning’s article by “Slow Boring,” about how we supposedly should just “Let Joe Manchin have his pipeline?” There’s a lot wrong and/or uninformed here, but first let’s start with one thing that’s at least arguably/somewhat true – with caveats:

“The infrastructure for a fossil fuel economy already exists; the infrastructure for a net zero economy does not. Reforming the permitting process to make it easier to build the economy we need is good and important, and it continues to be good and important even if a fair permitting deal also lets some fossil fuel projects go forward.”

For a great thread on this, see here, in which David Roberts argues that yes, “the totality of America’s permitting laws, regulations, & practices have the effect of making it difficult to build anything” – and no question, “we should make it much easier to build clean energy projects” –  but that just issuing blanket statements “permitting reform good” or “permitting reform bad” is highly dubious, given that this is an extremely complex subject in which one really needs to know the exact details of what’s being proposed before coming to any conclusions. The overall point, though, should be that any reforms need to make it EASIER to build good stuff (aka, CLEAN energy projects) and HARDER to build bad stuff (aka, DIRTY energy projects). In the case of Manchin’s “side deal,” unfortunately, it seems like it would make it at least somewhat easier to build BOTH clean energy projects AND dirty energy projects (e.g., the Mountain Valley Pipeline), and whether that’s a reasonable tradeoff is a serious question that shouldn’t just be flippantly brushed aside, as is the case with this morning’s “Slow Boring” article.

With that area of kinda/sorta/somewhat agreement out of the way, here are a few other points in the “Slow Boring” article that are at best questionable, at worst flat-out (or close to flat-out) wrong.

  • ” This pipeline is very close to completion, despite a lot of litigation” (This one’s at best questionable, with the Mountain Valley Pipeline folks claiming it’s 92% complete – as of the spring of 2021 – while anti-pipeline activists argue, “If we are talking about the 303-mile route as a whole, barely 50 percent of construction (51.32 percent to be precise) is complete.” So it comes down to how one defines “complete,” exactly, but it might at least be worth mentioning in the “Slow Boring” article that there’s dispute about the degree to which the Mountain Valley Pipeline is “very close to completion.”)
  • “The goal of the climate movement should be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and pipeline-blocking is not an effective strategy for accomplishing this” (Where does “Slow Boring” get this exactly? Has there been some sort of study that looks at various strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to determine the degree to which they are or are not effective? A 2015 article in the WaPo looked at this subject and didn’t come to any conclusions one way or the other, although it noted “the growing divestment movement” and other efforts to keep greenhouse gas emissions “in the ground.” Also, see this 2018 article in Vox by David Roberts, which reported that “a pair of economists has offered a cogent argument that the activists are onto something — that restrictive supply-side (RSS) climate policies have unique economic and political benefits and deserve a place alongside carbon prices and renewable energy supports in the climate policy toolkit,” and which concludes, “In this world, it makes sense to draw on all four quadrants — to use the portfolio approach taken for granted in so many other areas of policy. Climate change is a big problem. We can’t afford to leave any tools in the toolbox.” Seems reasonable, or at least worthy of a serious discussion, but…not to “Slow Boring,” apparently, which dismisses it all with a wave of its hand, flat-out stating, with no evidence presented, that “pipeline-blocking is not an effective strategy for accomplishing this.”)
  • “There is, at the end of the day, nothing wrong with the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” (In fact, there is a TON wrong – or at least questionable, from economic and environmental perspectives – with the Mountain Valley Pipeline. For just a few examples, see  In New Op-Ed, Former UVA Prof. Michael Mann, One of World’s Leading Climate Scientists, Argues Biden Administration Should Kill Polluting, Economically Nonsensical Mountain Valley Pipeline; May 19 Endangered Species Day: Mountain Valley Pipeline Continues To Harm Their Habitats12/9/20 Letter From VA Association of Professional Soil Scientists Demanded That “DEQ and State Water Control Board put a stop work order on the [Mountain Valley Pipeline] project”STILL Confused Why Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines Must Be Stopped? New Paper Explains Why We Need to Cancel All New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. Immediately.New analysis: Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines are Climate Disasters; etc. )
  • “Yes, it will lead to more natural gas being burned. And natural gas causes CO2 emissions. But how many additional net emissions will be generated by completing the MV Pipeline? It’s not clear. The opponents never offer a net emissions impact estimate because, I think, it would be embarrassingly low and potentially zero.” (This is just flat-out false. In fact, Oil Change International found that the Mountain Valley Pipeline “would be responsible for close to 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, equivalent to 26 coal plants or 19 million vehicles on the road.”  That’s pretty clear! But regardless, it complete refutes the argument by “Slow Boring” that “opponents never offer a net emissions impact estimate because, I think, it would be embarrassingly low and potentially zero.”)
  • “Virginia, where the gas would go, still uses some coal, which is dirtier than gas.” (Yes, Virginia still uses some coal, but…how is that an argument for replacing it with natural gas, as opposed to moving directly to clean energy – solar, wind, efficiency, etc? As for coal being “dirtier than gas,” a 2020 article in National Geographic, entitled “Natural gas is a much ‘dirtier’ energy source than we thought,” given that it emits methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. As the article writes, “However, the climate cost of natural gas has relied on a basic assumption: There are less total carbon emissions from natural gas than from other sources. But in recent years a flotilla of scientific studies have brought that assumption into question, primarily by looking at how much gas is lost during the production process.” So…whether or not natural gas is cleaner – or the same or dirtier! – than coal depends on how much methane leaks in the gas production and transmission process. Above a certain level, and gas actually could be even dirtier than coal! But for some reason, “Slow Boring” doesn’t mention any of that. Why not?)

 

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