It would be understandable if people interpreted a July decision by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners to delay action on a conditional-use permit that is critical to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline as that board having a concern about the project.
It would also, we are convinced, be wrong.
We believe, perhaps charitably, that the commissioners in July simply choked when facing opposition, and were unprepared for a lecture on the pipeline’s worthiness when that conversation had supposedly ended. Turns out it hasn’t, but more on that in a bit.
So the commissioners punted and, in doing so, opened themselves up to easy criticism, especially since they had previously endorsed the pipeline.
The commissioners on Monday night cleaned up their mess by quickly approving the permit, doing so without comment and after eight people had spoken against, saying they had concerns about safety, diminished property values, and that the infrastructure the permit allows — a 350-foot-tall cell phone tower and monitoring station — would not be in harmony with what already exists in the affected N.C. 710 area, mostly farmland.
The commissioners listened on Monday night, but their minds were not going to be changed. They understand the economic potential that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline represents for this impoverished county, and that industry that can bring jobs and tax revenue that are so badly needed want access to natural gas, which is cheaper and cleaner than coal.
We chuckle at the suggestion that poor, dumb Eastern North Carolina was picked for the pipeline because it lacks political clout, and that it would never be routed through the rich neighborhoods of Wake, Orange, Guilford and Mecklenberg counties. If it had been, the complaint would be that it was needed here, where jobs are scarce, and not there, where jobs are bountiful.
We understand the concerns that were expressed in opposition on Monday night, although we believe they are exaggerated, especially when it comes to safety. There is natural gas line throughout Robeson County already.
As this was being written, news arrived that the state has scheduled three more public hearings on the project, including one at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center on Thursday of next week. So it appears there will be more conversation about the necessity of the pipeline, its potential effect on the environment, and any potential risks. We know pipeline supporters are weary of the continued conversation, but if it will bring comfort to those who still have questions, then we have no objection.
If the pipeline is constructed, and we are strong in our belief that it will be, it is estimated that more than 17,000 construction and support jobs will be created as that is happening, and that when it is operating more than 2,200 permanent jobs will be created along a corridor that needs them.
There will also be an additional source of clean and cheap fuel that inches this country further toward energy independence and the security that it provides as alternative energy sources, to include solar and wind, continue to be developed.
But the real work the pipeline can do on behalf of Robeson County, Southeastern North Carolina, and areas that straddle its corridor, is to act as a magnet for industry looking for a place to set up shop. It would be hard to exaggerate the pipeline’s potential in helping to make those areas more attractive places to live in all the ways that matter.
The commissioners have done their job. Let’s hope the state does its.