Pipelines are in the news again, as they often are. This week a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access pipeline temporarily shut down so that a more thorough review of the pipeline’s environmental impacts could be conducted. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to allow “fast track” permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will subject the project to more lengthy environmental reviews.

There is something vaguely absurd about talking about “fast track” for the Keystone XL pipeline. Over five years ago, I wrote about the never-ending saga to get Keystone approved. In fact, one of the first things I ever published about environmental policy eight years ago was about pipeline controversies and referenced Keystone as an example. And as the Dakota Access example shows, even when a project is complete the story isn’t necessarily over.

I mention this not to say anything about the merits of any particular project, but only to note that pipelines can take a long time to get approved. This is for a mix of good and bad reasons. Like other large infrastructure projects, pipelines can involve the inherently controversial practice of eminent domain. Some form of eminent domain is probably necessary for infrastructure projects to happen at all. There’s a reason that the Founding Fathers, who were big believers in private property rights, authorized a limited power of eminent domain in the Constitution. Still, the power is subject to abuse, and should only happen subject to various safeguards, which can take time.

Environmental damage caused by pipelines is also a legitimate concern. But as I’ve written in the past, the time and effort required to complete environmental reviews is now out of all proportion to what was originally expected or intended. That’s why R Street has supported reform of the National Environmental Policy Act to streamline the permitting process without sacrificing environmental protections.

Ultimately, America needs to be able to build infrastructure to develop and transport energy for this country to thrive. This will remain true even if an energy transition makes us less reliant on oil and gas as an energy source. The same methods used to delay pipeline projects can and are being used to stymie clean energy infrastructure projects as well. Our goal should be to address environmental and property concerns in the quickest and least intrusive way possible, and then let decisions about pipeline development be left to the market.

Image credit:  Kodda

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