Over the next 25 years, the market for electrical power in North Carolina will undergo dramatic change. If progressives get their way, government will use a combination of subsidies and mandates to vastly expand our dependence on solar and wind. If cooler heads prevail, we will vastly expand our use of nuclear energy — which produces zero emissions of greenhouse gases and, unlike solar and wind, can effectively replace coal as a steady and dispatchable form of baseload generation to power our homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure.
In either scenario, however, there is an inescapable constant: during the transition, North Carolinians will need a reliable source of natural gas. That’s why attempts by activist groups and the Cooper administration to block new gas pipelines into the state have been so irresponsible. And it’s why recent actions by Congress, the Biden administration, and the U.S. Supreme Court to remove these obstructions have been so welcome.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) stretches 303 miles from the West Virginia-Ohio border across the Appalachians into southern Virginia. It is 94% complete — but that final portion will be challenging to construct and has been the subject of years of contentious litigation.
In the budget deal that President Biden struck with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia insisted on a provision that transferred jurisdiction over the MVP cases to the appeals court in the District of Columbia. Progressive plaintiffs were furious and persuaded appellate judges in the Fourth District (which includes North Carolina) to issue a stay on construction. On July 27, the U.S. Supreme Court properly removed that stay, allowing the MVP project to proceed.
Under the federal constitution, Congress clearly possesses the power to determine the jurisdiction of lower courts. I don’t think it should exercise that power except in the rarest of circumstances. This happens to be one of those times. Judges are supposed to apply federal laws, not second-guess them. It is the express will of Congress that pipeline projects such as the MVP be allowed to proceed.
Why should North Carolinians care about this dispute? Because a related 75-mile pipeline, the Southgate Extension, would carry the MVP natural gas into our state, passing through Rockingham and Alamance counties. “North Carolina has a deficit of pipeline capacity,” says my John Locke Foundation colleague Jon Sanders, “and its current — and only — interstate pipeline, Transco, is fully subscribed.”
Citing the delays in MVP construction caused by litigation, regulators haven’t fully authorized the Southgate Extension. Clearing this logjam promises to give North Carolinians access to the natural gas we need to keep our lights on and our economy humming.
Environmentalists argue against any expansion of fossil-fuel capacity. They deem it an insufficient response to the “climate crisis.” They also allege that while natural gas burns cleaner than coal, the process of tapping and transporting it releases too much of another potent greenhouse gas, methane.
These are unpersuasive arguments, which is why they have failed to persuade most state and federal lawmakers. Because breezes don’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, wind and solar plants have to be backed up by some other source. Right now, that’s typically natural-gas plants, which can be turned off and on with relative ease. Coal and nuclear plants, by contrast, are reliable but take a long time to bring up to full operation. Progressives suggest that wind and solar power can be stored in batteries to offset their intermittent nature. Maybe someday, but that’s just not technically or financially feasible right now.
Sanders and the Locke energy-policy team argue that the best long-term solution is next-generation nuclear energy. We can realistically expect big increases in such capacity by the mid-2030s, with nuclear supplying the vast majority of the state’s needs by 2050.
In the meantime, then, we need more access to natural gas, which also has valuable industrial and agricultural applications. The Supreme Court’s action was great news for North Carolina.