Saturday, December 12, 2015

Democracy missing from pipeline debate

Growing up in Temple, there were few things we valued more than our land, our voice and our independence from outside interests. When it came time to repave a road or buy a new fire engine, our duly elected selectmen would gather proposals and make their case to the town. Come Town Meeting in the spring, we all got to have our say.
That’s the New Hampshire way.
Now, Temple and neighboring towns are facing the biggest threat to land and self-determination I have ever seen.

In 2014, Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan announced plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Temple and 16 other New Hampshire towns, complete with a 41,000-horsepower compressor station in nearby New Ipswich. The Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline would originate in Western Pennsylvania and deliver 1.3 billion cubic feet per day of fracked natural gas to New England — more than twice the projected need for the region.

In order to install the 77 miles of pipeline through southern New Hampshire, Kinder Morgan would cut a 125-foot path and maintain a permanent 50-foot easement through private lands, as well as the existing right-of-way.

Some Granite Staters support the pipeline, arguing it will bring construction jobs and reduced energy prices to meet consumer demand. Others oppose the project, citing devalued property, eminent domain seizures, and a range of safety and environmental concerns from leaks and occasional explosions to expanded reliance on fracking.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the project, every Granite Stater can agree that it is fundamentally a local concern. The decision must be based on a careful weighing of the costs and benefits to the affected towns and the region — not Kinder Morgan’s bottom line. Yet most of us in New Hampshire do not have the means to buy a seat at the debate table.

Consider the investments Kinder Morgan has made in politics. Over the last two years, the company has spent more than $100,000 lobbying in New Hampshire. The $50,000 it spent on lobbying in 2014 was more than any public interest, nonprofit or labor organization spent that year, and it is expected to rise even higher in 2015. (So far, the New Hampshire secretary of state has failed to publish the mandatory lobbying disclosures for the second half of the year).

Grassroots groups opposing the pipeline did not report any lobbying expenditures of their own.
That means that long before state leaders heard a word from their constituents about the proposed pipeline, they had already been contacted by well-paid lobbyist arguing in support of the project. What’s more, those lobbyists frequently help fund state lawmakers’ campaigns.
Nor has Kinder Morgan restricted its lobbying activity to New Hampshire. Over the same period, the company has spent nearly $450,000 lobbying in Massachusetts and another $260,000 lobbying the federal government for a combined $1,000 per day. Over $100,000 of its federal lobbying expenditures were specifically targeted at influencing the FERC process to ratify the NED Pipeline. That’s money a Texas-based company is sending directly to Washington, D.C., to influence whether or not a pipeline gets built in our backyard.

And while Kinder Morgan touts its policy of political neutrality by saying the company does not make any campaign contributions, many of its top executives do precisely that. Since 2012, Kinder Morgan employees and their families have invested millions of dollars in state and federal races, including presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. In 2015 alone, Chairman Richard Kinder and his wife have already spent $2.2 million to influence the presidential election (a small fraction of their $9 billion fortune), thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United allowing unlimited super PAC spending on behalf of candidates.

In a political system where elected officials set energy policy — directly and via appointments to the FERC — while simultaneously raising millions of dollars from special interests to get elected, Kinder Morgan’s investments make perfect business sense. But what about the vast majority of Granite Staters who cannot afford to hire lobbyists or fund state and federal candidates of our own?

As Kinder Morgan holds its obligatory public hearings across southern New Hampshire, complete with slideshows and dozens of company representatives, I can’t help wondering if it isn’t just a charade. Why would a company spend millions of dollars to influence the political process if the voices of affected citizens are the central concern? And how can a democratic republic allow unlimited spending by special interests in the first place?

For the sake of my old town and the values we hold dear, I hope citizens across New Hampshire will make their voices heard in the current pipeline debate and put an end to endless spending in elections.

Daniel Weeks
executive director of Open Democracy.


Anonymous said...

Pay attention to the stock market. If you own shares of Kinder Morgan you are expected to make an 8% return on your investment this year. So, perhaps we need to ask the supporters of this investment what their expected rate of return is. Most of us that participate in the market will receive a 4% return this year. Hmm, food for thought are the town employees getting another 4% raise this year? Enough is enough stop whining and deal with the board and the problem.

Wolf of Wall St said...

More lies from the anti pipeline group. "Watch the stock market". Obviously you don't. Kinder Morgan has been tanking big time.
This was in Barron's yesterday:

Facing a potential cut in its credit rating to junk status by Moody’s Investors Service and with its stock (ticker: KMI) in free-fall, the highly leveraged firm opted for a larger-than-expected cut of 75% in its dividend, to an annual rate of 50 cents from $2.04. Investors took the news in stride, apparently concluding that the worst is over. Kinder Morgan shares dropped 1%, to $16.67 last week, after falling 30% in the prior week.

You must get your news propaganda from made up ant pipeline source

Anonymous said...

No, actually Wolf I read the WSJ and pay attention to CNBC. Some of us that live in this town actually have a brain and respect others.

Safety conscious said...

Gee, Wolf, if Kinder Morgan's stock is tanking, do you really believe that they will be able to safely finance and build the pipeline with no corners being cut? What if they can't afford to finish what they start - we'll have partially (or fully) destroyed homes and wetlands with even less to show for it. Or worse - they install inferior materials with fewer safety features, thus raising the possibility (or is it probabilty?) of an explosive leak.