Seeking a Level Playing Field When Debating Our Nation’s Energy Future

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The recent ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing a petition to overturn FERC’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was more than just a victory of common sense over “Keep It in the Ground” activism. It highlighted the enormous disparity between how pipelines—and our current energy infrastructure—are judged (focus on the costs while minimizing the benefits), versus how the Green New Deal is being judged (focus on the benefits while ignoring the costs).

According to the anti-pipeline petitioners, which included the Sierra Club and Bold Alliance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “failed to adequately consider the climate change impacts of downstream greenhouse gas emissions resulting from combustion of gas transported by the new pipeline.” Further, they claimed that FERC “arbitrarily refused to use the social cost of carbon,” a measurement in dollars of the impact of a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in a given year.

But the court pointedly disagreed, ruling “FERC provided an estimate of the upper bound of emissions resulting from end-use combustion, and it gave several reasons why it believed petitioners’ preferred metric, the Social Cost of Carbon tool, is not an appropriate measure of project-level climate change impacts.”

What is striking about the petition and the court’s ruling is that both are focused on the measurement of the “cost” of the natural gas that would be transported by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, with only scant reference in FERC’s filing to the incalculable public benefits of that natural gas and the pipeline that delivers it.

Meanwhile, the proposed Green New Deal is estimated to cost up to $93 trillion over a decade—or more than $65,300 per year for every American household—according to a just released a report from American Action Forum, which is run by a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But rather than being condemned for its astronomical cost, the Green New Deal is being lauded for its potential benefits while its price tag is being ignored or dismissed as a minor issue.

Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell University and an advisor to freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who introduced the Green New Deal resolution in the House, recently wrote, “The short answer to ‘how we will pay for’ the Green New Deal is easy. We’ll pay for it just as we pay for all else: Congress will authorize necessary spending, and Treasury will spend.”

Or, as the Sunrise Movement put it in a recent tweet, “We will pay for it like everything else … by the Treasury printing more money,” a strategy that Ocasio-Cortez endorses.

It is an immutable fact that oil and natural gas have made our modern life possible and that it is literally impossible to transition our nation’s energy infrastructure from oil and natural gas to 100% renewables by the year 2030, as the Green New Deal calls for. And it is also irrefutable that most American families cannot afford to fork over $65,300 per year for 10 years to advance the extremist goals of the Green New Deal.

But maybe, if we all work together, we can agree to honestly weigh both the costs and the benefits of every proposal when debating our nation’s energy future.