Cooper must stand with Eastern NC on natural gas pipeline


Before the Earth completes its current lap around the sun, the economic course for Eastern North Carolina and all that affects — which is pretty much everything — will probably have been charted, and the person who has the strongest grip on the wheel is himself a native of this part of the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s role should favor the rural and impoverished communities, to include Robeson County, whose collective fingers are crossed in the hope that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, arguably the most scrutinized project of its kind in this nation’s history, will clear what is essentially a final hurdle of getting a water quality permit from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Cooper has mostly said the right things, but there is immense pressure from the Left for him to work to defeat the pipeline — and that is where the money to fuel his campaign will come from. We will remind him today that Robeson County went for Pat McCrory a year ago, and we believe voters here will be watching closely to see what happens regarding the pipeline to inform where there support will be in 2010.

It wasn’t that many of Earth’s laps around the sun ago that natural gas was all the rage, with environmentalists pushing it as the energy of the future because it is clean, efficient, cheap and abundant — and coal, none of that while making the planet sweat.

Interestingly enough, that changed when natural gas was embraced by the energy industry.

While we favor an all-of-the-above approach to our energy needs, solar is never going to carry the load, and while the Piedmont and western North Carolina has plenty of access to natural gas, our supply depends on the ACP, the 600-mile, $5 billion, natural gas line that would be owned mostly by Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas and zigzag from West Virginia to Pembroke.

We say zigzag because, unlike back in the day, all steps are now taken, including routing around anything worthy of protection, to not do harm to the environment. That is among the reasons why the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, and others have all looked at and given approval to the pipeline.

The rest of the state is thriving economically, while Eastern North Carolina and Robeson County are expected to be satisfied with low-paying and poorly benefited jobs. If Cooper cares about our well-being, he will ensure that the ACP becomes reality, so that industries that depend on it will have the option of coming here.

The pipeline will create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs during the two- to three-year construction period, which will benefit many Robeson County residents as well as bring workers here who will spend their money locally. Its owners will pay taxes on the pipeline’s infrastructure that are badly needed by local governments to meet needs.

But if those were the pipeline’s only benefits, they would not be enough.

What the pipeline promises is jobs that are now taken for granted throughout the rest of the state, which has the advantage of abundant natural gas.

That is why pretty much every economic group, local government and business organization in this region has been pushing for this pipeline. To our west, look at the 11 counties that are crossed by the Transco natural gas pipeline and you will see nine have unemployment rates below the state average, and 10 have experienced population growth during the last decade.

Compare that with Eastern North Carolina, where jobless rates are mostly above the state average, including in Robeson County, and counties are losing population, again true in Robeson County. There are other contributors to our settle-for-less status, but don’t underestimate how much abundant natural gas could level the field.

Leftists like to talk about income disparity, but rarely offer practical solutions for finding the fix beyond redistributing wealth downward. We know that they will pressure Cooper on the DEQ permit. What we don’t know is if Cooper will stand strong for the eastern part of North Carolina, including Robeson County, or if he will prefer his new friends.

We will know soon.

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