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OPINION: Future of region brighter for pipeline ruling

OPINION: Future of region brighter for pipeline ruling

The Virginian-Pilot

Opinion, Bryan K. Stephens 

My daily mission, and my constant focus, is to look for every means possible to set the conditions for businesses to succeed and bring good jobs and economic growth to our region.

That means ensuring we have a well-trained and job-ready workforce, supporting policies that will improve our transportation system, and advocating for investments in infrastructure projects that are crucial to attracting new employers and helping existing businesses expand. Infrastructure projects that increase our access to reliable, affordable supplies of energy are among the most critical that the chamber supports.

That’s why I am pleased by a recent common-sense ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that will allow our region to take a major step forward in that effort.

The Supreme Court found that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, like more than 50 other pipelines already do, can run more than 600 feet below a one-tenth of a mile section of the Appalachian Trail with U.S. Forest Service approval. The pipeline will be installed a half-mile away from the trail on each side.

No one walking on that path will even know that one of the most important economic development projects in the history of commonwealth runs beneath the trail. Just like they don’t realize they walk or drive over dozens of pipelines every day.

The construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is imperative to the economic future of Hampton Roads. More than 6 million people in Virginia and North Carolina use natural gas in their homes every day. And here in Hampton Roads the need is even more acute, with a dozen military bases and hundreds of major manufacturing facilities reliant upon natural gas that comes via just one interstate pipeline, which is already operating at full capacity.

This has significant ramifications for our energy bills and national security, our ability to heat our homes during cold spells, and to attract large employers looking to relocate to our area.

Thankfully, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline addresses all of these challenges. It will transport domestically produced, cleaner burning natural gas from West Virginia, right here to our communities. Natural gas burns far cleaner than coal, and its reliability helps ensure we can continue moving forward with more renewable energy projects, such as the Dominion Energy offshore wind project currently being constructed off of Virginia Beach.

Additionally, the pipeline will create thousands of good paying jobs during and after construction. This is the new energy source we have long awaited.

Now major manufacturing companies can know with certainty that in Hampton Roads we not only have the workforce and quality of life they desire, but we can keep their lights on and their energy bills affordable. That financial benefit will extend to all of us. An increased supply of natural gas will mean an end to energy crunches and higher bills in the winter when cold snaps descend upon the region.

For several Hampton Roads communities, the benefits go further than increased economic development, job creation and cheaper electricity. Localities that will host the pipeline itself will gain millions in new property tax revenue. That’s new revenue for schools; higher salaries for teachers and law enforcement; and new parks and roads.

We all know this is a tough economic climate. No family or business has been immune from the impacts of the pandemic. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need projects and policies that help get people back to work and generate tax revenue for our cash-strapped cities and counties.

This ruling could not have come at a better moment. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is the most thoroughly studied and reviewed energy project of its kind. Delays in construction and numerous court challenges have doubled the cost of the pipeline and added three years to our wait for its completion.

It’s time to move forward. It’s time bring this cleaner burning, reliable energy to Hampton Roads businesses and families. It’s time to grow our economy.

Bryan K. Stephens is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Read more in The Virginian-Pilot.