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Delaying pipeline planning hurts Georgia

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For the first time in two decades, Georgia is evaluating its process for approving oil and natural gas pipeline projects.

While it’s important we get this right, unnecessary delays and stall tactics will only hurt Georgia’s families and small business.

Georgians have become increasingly dependent on cleaner-burning natural gas to keep the lights on, wash their clothes and warm their homes. And most natural gas, like fuel for our cars, is delivered by pipeline.

Which mean, we’re going to need more of them to meet our growing energy needs as the state’s population swells and demand escalates – fast.

Unfortunately, work on all pipeline projects is on hold until June 30th because of Georgia’s review process, which started last year when the state legislature formed a commission to recommend what pipeline procedures would best balance economic growth with environmental safeguards. That’s more than enough time for the commission to review and make right suggestions, we thought.

Except the commission needs an extension, asking lawmakers to extend the moratorium for two years. More time is needed, they say, to finalize their recommendations.

This delay is cause for concern.

Pipelines are the economic arteries of Georgia. Without them, families, seniors, people on fixed incomes and small businesses with razor-thin margins will eventually have to pay more for gas and electricity. That’s why it’s crucial the commission recognizes how important they are to cash-strapped businesses and low-income households and moves quickly to ensure a framework that‘ll allow pipeline work to move forward.

Unfortunately, lawmakers continue to ignore the obvious, yielding to a loud, small minority who wants to play politics and oppose all fossil fuel production and infrastructure out of hand, regardless of how it’ll impact those who cannot afford higher energy bills. They also don’t have a realistic alternate plan for transporting must-have resources.

These organizations also fabricate information about the pipeline siting process, making something very rare – like the use of eminent domain – look like a commonplace industry practice, used to run roughshod over landowners. In truth, most pipeline construction companies have negotiated and granted easements with landowners long before construction.

But to sway the commission, Georgians must first learn what pipelines deliver, how often, how safely and by what means.

Per reports, U.S. shale gas allowed the average American family to pocket an extra $1,337 in 2015. Domestic oil and natural gas infrastructure have improved the average cost of living for Americans by nearly $750 a year since 2008. Georgians, however, are not getting the same benefits, paying on average $2,067 per year on their energy bills, per federal data.

Pipelines even help protect the environment. Transporting energy by pipeline is 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume across the same distance by other means, like truck or rail, and 99.999 percent of energy moved via pipeline safely reaches its destination. Fewer pipelines also mean more vehicles on our roadways, which increases air emissions and the chances of an accident or spill. Thanks to pipeline upgrades and increases in the use of cleaner-burning natural gas, carbon emissions from electricity generation are at their lowest points in decades. which is good for Georgia since its eighth in the U.S. for net electricity generation.

Yet no one is talking about these economic and environmental benefits.

Georgia needs a rational process that allows pipelines to be built for the good of everyone, not just a system based on the politics of a few. That means holding pipeline operators to an environmentally high standard while allowing them and the thousands they employ to do what they do best – build infrastructure that helps keep the lights on, safely and economically.

Brydon Ross is Southeast Director of Consumer Energy Alliance.