The aftermath of the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan. Image from salmonguy.org
How many pipeline spills do you think there were last year? Three? Ten? 85? Maybe you remember reading about a few, and think, well, things were pretty hectic last year, what with the dying-fish floparound of liberal democracy, so maybe I missed one here or there.
There were, at least, 220 “significant” leaks220 “significant” leaks, when you count oil (in all its manifest and increasingly sludgy forms), natural gas, and refined gasoline. Because that’s what pipelines do. They burst. Whether they are lurking under the Great Lakes or right at the edge of your town, coursing under the fields where you ran as a child, they are a time bomb, ready to go off.
Of course, we need pipelines. Our economy is still based on dead dinosaurs (which, though not strictly accurate, sort of is, and is actually sort of cool, when you think about it), and that matter needs to be transported. It’s a devil’s deal, maybe, but it’s the one we have. Which is why you think it would be super really important to make sure that those pipelines, which are aging, increasingly prone to busting, and more susceptible to extreme weather (which we’re having more of), are monitored, protected, and upgraded.
Now, the upgrading might be part of the administration’s infrastructure plan, though it seems like they are already planning to “punt” that to 2018, partly because they have other priorities (taking away health care from millions, tax cuts for the wealthy), and mostly because Republicans really don’t want to spend any money on infrastructure, as Yglesias reminds us. So let’s not put our eggs in the upgrade basket.
And, of course, the “monitor and regulate our aging pipelines so as to not poison our air, water, and land” is DOA as well. They are looking to “ease” regulations that the Obama administration imposed that call for strict monitoring.
Regulators in the waning hours of the Obama era wrote rules aimed at changing that, and the industry is looking forward to the new administration rolling them back. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “has gone overboard,” said Brigham McCown, a former head of the PHMSA who served on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure transition team. “They built a Cadillac instead of the Chevrolet that Congress told them to build.”
While Obama was president, the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)budget grew by 61 percent. Then, seven days before Trump’s inauguration, the agency finalized a rule toughening up inspection and repair demands, mandating, for example, that companies have leak-detection systems in populated areas and requiring they examine lines within 72 hours of flooding or another so-called extreme weather event. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main trade group, characterized it all as overreaching and unnecessary.
Unsurprisingly (though inconclusively, as it was a small sample size) the total number of spills and leaks actually dropped last year, from 462 in 2015 to 417 (the 220 number above was “significant” leaks, obviously a few hundred are no biggie). So yeah, the new energy team thinks that having the Cadillac of pipelines protection is way worse than having the Chevy.
So let’s sum up.
- No money for upgrades
- Fewer regulations
- Less monitoring
- No admittance that old pipelines are in more danger due to climate change, because what’s that?
- More reliance on the materials that lead to climate change
- More pipelines (even if you have to ignore reasonable arguments against)
It’s a maddening and lunatic philosophy. It’s one thing to want to rely entirely on fossil fuels; it is another altogether to deliberately oppose making the usage of them even slightly safer. I don’t even know if you can call that a philosophy. It’s just insanity, and it is the insanity that is running our country.
Anyway, this was another reminder that Donald Trump is a right-wing Republican who governs like a right-wing Republican.