Because of pollution, global warming and global geopolitics, we obviously need to move away from fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, but also natural gas. Still, our economy will primarily run on fossil fuels for a few more decades as we move too slowly away from them. The least dirty one -- and quite cheap now -- is gas.
The current power of ruthless Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is largely attributable to Western Europe's excessive dependence on Russian fossil fuel. There's not all that much else in the Russian economy, despite the country's vast size. But then, national over-reliance on fossil fuel tends to encourage dictatorship and corruption, which suppress the creation of a well-diversified economy and the rule of law, which are needed for long-term prosperity.
New England, if it's to remain economically competitive with the rest of the country, must have access to more gas, of which there's lots nearby, in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The best way to obtain it is to build a 180-mile-long pipeline from central New York to a transmission hub in Dracut, north of Boston, as proposed by Kinder Morgan, the big pipeline company.
However, it's tougher than ever to get big things done in America. Well-heeled interest groups can hold up projects indefinitely, whatever the public interest. This is happening in the northern part of western and central Massachusetts, where some big landowners are trying to keep out the project.
Many people understandably don't want a pipeline across their acres, even with generous payments from the likes of Kinder. But New England has been on the edge of disaster several times in recent years when bad weather, and that gas is used for heating, cooking and electricity-generation, force utilities to turn to highly polluting oil when the gas-pipeline system -- built originally only for heating and cooking -- can't meet demand, notably in cold waves.
We've barely missed region-wide blackouts. Meanwhile, New England's pipeline-capacity deficit makes our energy bills higher and ability to expand business lower, and undermines economic-development planning.
The engineering consultants Black & Veatch, in a study for the New England States Committee on Electricity, warn that severe gas shortages threaten the reliability of our electricity grid over the next few years.
Many foes of pipelines (or at least of pipelines that go through their property, who tend to be affluent and thus can own a lot of land and can afford to hire lawyers to fight public projects) say that if we must have new pipelines, then let's run them only along big roads and existing pipeline routes. But that would be too limiting to meet a market demand that some experts project might increase 50 percent in the next few years. And it would require digging up more land in densely populated areas, much of it inhabited by low-income people.
But then, the affluent, the biggest energy consumers on a per-capita basis, have always been more than happy to have the energy infrastructure that supports their lifestyles put in places where low-income people without easy access to lawyers and politicians live. Consider comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, who own hundreds of acres of tax-favored protected land that the pipeline might cross and are vehemently fighting it.
It all recalls the old line about taxes, attribute to Russell Long: "Don't tax you, don't tax me; tax the man behind the tree."
Pipeline foes, as have wind-turbine opponents, cite the alleged environmental dangers of such projects. In the case of Kinder proposal, Mr. Cosby complains that "flora and fauna" would be imperiled. But they're far more threatened by the air and water pollution and climate change caused by digging up and burning oil and coal than by the relatively clean gas extracted by fracking and put into pipelines.
Then there's the demand for the absurd promise that the pipeline would never leak or explode. But nothing is 100 percent safe. We'd have no modern civilization without risk, in the case of gas pipelines very low. And foes don't mention the much greater dangers of tanker trucks and railroad cars carrying gas.
Regulators and political leaders should push to take by eminent domain whatever land is needed for the Kinder project so that the region's economy and, yes, environment can benefit from long-overdue gas-pipeline expansion.
My wife and I went to a delightful wedding at a Brooklyn restaurant almost under the famous bridge last Saturday. It has one of the world's great urban views.
We were New Yorkers back in the '70s, and our visits evoke all sorts of memories. The music at such weddings used to be mostly from "The Great American Songbook." Now it might start out with a bit of Gershwin, et al. (which seems just perfect as you gaze at soaring Lower Manhattan), but fairly quickly move to ear-splitting, conversation-stopping hip hop, expeditiously eliminating the romance in a much richer and cleaner but in a some ways less interesting Gotham than four decades ago. (Prepare to mostly text at such functions.)
But then, some drugstores and gyms are almost as loud. It's the Culture of Cacophony. Even some post offices have bad rock blaring. I sometimes wear earplugs while swimming laps in a nearby YMCA because the lifeguards have the music turned up so loud.
Meanwhile, the Metro-North Railroad has closed its last bar car. While "functioning alcoholics" were part of the clientele, most patrons exercised a disciplined conviviality. Worse, a study in the British Medical Journal says that even moderate drinking is bad for you, contrary to earlier researchers' assertions. Thus we head deeper into a healthier (?), if less fun, era.
Robert Whitcomb (email@example.com) is a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, a partner in Cambridge Management Group, a healthcare-sector consultancy, a former Providence Journal editorial-page editor and a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune.