By Kate Aronoff
Well-heeled climate and energy wonks have long sought elegant market solutions to lower greenhouse gas emissions—tax incentives for green energy, or carbon pricing to gently nudge companies toward a low-carbon future. But in the past 24 hours, multiple breaking news events have pointed to what may be a more efficient, less genteel tool for stopping fossil fuel projects in their tracks: social movements. Sunday evening, the energy companies behind the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline announced their plans to abandon the pipeline project, just a few weeks after New York State rejected the Williams Pipeline. Monday morning, a federal judge ordered a temporary shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), citing its slapdash environmental review process. All of the above represented big blows to the fossil fuel industry and huge wins for the Indigenous communities and organizers that have worked to block these projects from their inception.
Just take Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s word for it. “The well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby has successfully killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Brouillette wrote in a press statement Sunday, adding that the project is “no longer economically viable due to the costly legal battles they would continue to face.” Over the past few years, a full-court press of legal challenges and mounting pressure from Indigenous tribes and a wide range of organizers had delayed the project and nearly doubled its projected cost—from $4.5 billion to $8 billion.
Brouillette didn’t mention another factor in the ACP’s demise: Natural gas simply isn’t very good business anymore. Years of public pressure are a big part of that, adding to the myriad structural challenges facing the natural gas industry: chronic oversupply, natural gas producers’ mountains of debt, and Wall Street investors losing patience after years of unprofitability.