Have you considered advocating for the energy and pipeline industries? You don’t need an official position or a big title to advocate for smart energy practices in our country.
In this episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, find out how David Holt of the Consumer Energy Alliance works with big players in Washington, D.C., oil and gas companies, and everyday Americans to find energy solutions that work for every community.
You will also learn about the importance of educating friends, family, neighbors, and community leaders on supporting the expansion of clean energy capabilities that will reduce emissions and lower energy costs for individual households. Download this informative and important episode today!
Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- David Holt is the President of the Consumer Energy Alliance. Connect with David on LinkedIn.
- The Consumer Energy Alliance is an advocacy organization that focuses on expanding the dialogue between the energy sector and the rest of the economy to make sensible, informed decisions about energy and energy policy.
- Read the latest energy studies by the Consumer Energy Alliance as part of their “Pipelines for America” campaign.
- Emissions are the substances or byproducts released into the atmosphere via energy activity. There are several types of emissions:
- Greenhouse gas emissions are the byproduct of generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
- VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions are the byproduct of a large group of organic chemicals that are involved in atmospheric photochemical reactions.
- Particulate matter emissions are a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air that can cause health effects when inhaled.
- Nitrous oxide emissions are natural and manmade byproducts of farming, vegetative, and agricultural activity. The majority of emissions are naturally-occuring, while human activity has increased these types of emissions.
- Sulfur dioxide emissions are the result of burning fuel that contains high concentrations sulfur during industrial processes such as metal smelting.
- The Keystone Pipeline is a large-scale pipeline system designed to transfer oil from Canada to Texas. The fourth phase of the project, Keystone XL, became a hot-button, divisive issue in 2015, which caused delays. The expansion was approved in 2017 during the Trump Administration.
- The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is an underground pipeline system running from North Dakota through the Midwest and connects to Texas to form the Bakken pipeline system. The project drew opposition in 2016 due to concerns over the effect on Native Americans.
- Mary Landrieu is a former U.S. Senator from Louisiana. Mary was a Senator from 1997 to 2015 and served as the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee from 2014 to 2015.
Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” Episode 18.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time and to show that appreciation, we are giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Ian Buchan with Pembina Pipeline. Ian, your YETI tumbler is on its way.
Now, because it’s on its way to Canada, and this is the first time we’ve shipped something outside the country, might take a little longer but it’s headed to your direction. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, on the Pipeliners Podcast, our guest is David Holt. David is the president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, which is an advocacy organization that focuses on expanding the dialogue between the energy sector and the rest of the economy. We’re going to ask David some questions about this.
My understanding is that they work to balance the conversation so that those that are advocating against energy projects have an alternative voice so that the government agencies and others who are interested in energy projects have the opportunity to hear both the opposition and the advocacy voices.
With that, let’s welcome David Holt. David, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
David Holt: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Russel: Maybe the best way to start is why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and your background?
David: My name is David Holt. I serve as president of the Consumer Energy Alliance. I spent about 16 years in Washington, D.C., working for the first Bush Administration, worked for the Department of State and Public Affairs, doing media, the daily briefing, and things like that, helped support that, got it right out of school.
After law school, I worked at the Texas Railroad Commission for a number of years, then ended up back in D.C. doing public policy work on downstream issues, fuels issues, regulatory issues, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, and representing companies across the energy spectrum. I have a lot of experience as a lawyer and an advocacy professional in energy and energy policy.
Russel: I know you’re the founder of the Consumer Energy Alliance. I’m curious, what drove you to start that organization up?
David: I’m one of the founders. Many hands make light work of course and the whole premise behind Consumer Energy Alliance is energy impacts the entire U.S. economy.
How do we develop it through a trade association — a permanent conversation that links the oil and gas sector, the solar sector, wind, pipelines infrastructure with manufacturers, and transportation folks, and the airline industry, and the farming community, and plastics, and the IT industry, and families everywhere?
That we’re all able to make sensible, informed decisions about energy, energy policy, understand where energy comes from, what it means for local communities, what it means for states, and what it means for the nation. Time has flown by, but Consumer Energy Alliance is now 13 years old.
Most trade associations, Russel, are vertically integrated. They’re one issue — whether it’s energy, or pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing, or whatever. Consumer Energy Alliance is a horizontal trade association. It’s anybody from any walk of life, any industry that says energy matters to them.
Energy is a pocketbook issue to that company, or that individual, or that family. They’re interested in understanding where energy comes from and how to reduce energy prices. That’s what CEA represents.
Russel: It’s really interesting to me, David. I’m a technical guy. I’m an engineer and a technologist. Most of my involvement with trade associations or other associations have been like you said vertically integrated. It’s all about developing and networking around the technical expertise, and the practices, and technologies around that discipline.
I think one of the challenges for us as pipeliners is that we get a little myopic. We don’t talk a lot about what we do. The way David, you and I met is I have a friend at church, a guy by the name of Marty Allday. We were sitting around having a conversation. I was telling him about trying to get this podcast going. I know that Marty is a lobbyist that represents pipeliners in midstream companies. We’re just visiting, and he connects me to you.
I don’t think that I would ever gotten connected to you through the normal way that I network through my professional organizations and the more technology things that I do. I find that really fascinating that what you’re doing is this horizontal integration. You’re looking for the people who use energy and advocating for them. To me, that’s unique. It’s different.
David: It is. Over the course of the 13 years, we’ve become an organization that is probably more similar to how a Sierra Club maybe is organized than we are to an oil and gas trade association.
We function at the grassroots level largely outside of the state capital, but we have really good relationships with elected officials, with the governors in the state capitol outside of Washington, D.C., but looking at the broader conversation of how energy impacts families, how we can connect these families’ energy users to the pipeline industry.
CEA, of course, has a lot of pipeline members as part of our — we have 300-sum-odd member companies. We have about 500,000 member families now all across the country. We do a lot of outreach.
We attend a lot of public hearings and provide a lot of public comments on regulatory processes. The pipeline industry gets the permanence they need; the general public better understands the implications to building or, more importantly, not building pipelines.
Elected officials who are now increasingly under a lot of public pressure by pretty small but very vocal and aggressive interest groups that are saying no to pipelines, no to hydraulic fracturing, no to energy anytime, anywhere including transmission lines for wind and solar.
We are trying to better inform those elected officials to make good, sensible decisions that allows energy to be developed and brought from where it’s being developed to the communities that need that energy, now increasingly for electricity or other products that are made with natural gas or oil.
Russel: Yeah, that’s actually a good segue because one of the things I wanted to talk to you about, more the reasons I asked you to get on a podcast because I think this is a subject that people in the pipeline business in particular would be interested in.
There seems to be an increasing level of activism and opposition to energy projects of all types but, in particular, a lot of the larger pipeline projects. This is kind of notional knowledge, if you will.
I know that with the cold winter that we had, that there were people that were paying some really ridiculous prices to heat their homes during this last cold snap. Some of these pipelines that are being so strongly opposed would cause those people to be spending less money to heat their homes.
David: It is ridiculous that this debate about whether or not we’re building pipelines or whether or not we’re increasing U.S. energy security is even occurring in the nation, but we’re seeing an increasingly, a very vocal, a lot of bullying tactics and from a pipeline perspective.
You’re seeing it everywhere. It’s basically just keep it in the ground notion that in order to protect the environment, we must keep hydrocarbons in the ground.
Well, first and foremost, that environmental argument is a misnomer because the United States, in every single measure…If you look back on 5 years, 10 years, 15, 30 years, greenhouse gas emissions, VOC emissions, particulate matter emissions, nitrous oxide emissions, sulfur dioxide emissions. Every single measure that you want to look at from an environmental standpoint and air quality standpoint, the United States is absolutely leading the world in protecting the environment. You and I and every listener to this podcast, we’re absolutely all environmentalist. We absolutely agree that the environment should be protected.
Russel: This is another great point. In my experience, I don’t meet people in the energy business that don’t love the environment. There’s something about being out in the countryside doing this kind of work, that people who love the countryside do this kind of work.
They’re just as concerned about environmental protection. Only they’re doing something. In my words, they’re doing something “real” — I’m doing air quotes with my fingers here — they’re doing something “real” about it.
David: Exactly right. There’s groups out there that are trying to raise a lot of money scaring people into thinking that this false choice exists that pits the environment versus energy production, energy delivery.
It really, from a pipeline perspective, my experience is the Keystone XL pipeline group stumbled upon this idea that they could block pipelines and they could really get into local communities and individual states, as well as putting pressure on the administration and other federal officials in multiple layers — put pressure in multiple layers to thwart, slow down, or increase the expense for developing pipelines.
Keystone launched that effort about five, six years ago, now, and then it’s really proliferated around the nation. Most pipelines, at some level, are receiving some hostile rhetoric, some folks that are showing up at public hearings when they occur and arguing against that pipeline or finding ways to put public pressure on elected officials who are making decisions around those pipelines.
Our job in this, working with pipelines, working with the impact to community, those folks that are looking for lower electricity prices, lower feedstock prices, is to make sure that record is balanced, Russel.
We want to make sure that, one, the communities understand that this is occurring, and this phenomenon that began with the Keystone XL pipeline that we’re now seeing at pipeline projects all around the country is proliferating, and that there are groups out there that are getting organized, they’re well-funded, they’re raising a lot of money around this issue, and they’re not providing accurate information.
Let’s balance the record. Let’s make sure folks understand all the issues that are associated with this. For example, and you alluded to this a minute ago: Consumer Energy Alliance did a study last year basically saying, “All right, opposition groups. We’re going to take you at your word. We’re going to look at all the pipelines that are under construction in the United States that are faced with some sort of protest, and we’re going to assume that you win, and none of those pipelines get built. We found in that study that by 2030, just 11-and-a-half short years away, 31 percent of the electricity generation capacity in this nation would be lost.”
That’s equivalent to blackouts in California, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and all of New England. You black out one-third of the United States because we failed to build the pipeline generation capacity that the nation is now relying on as we’re moving to natural gas, for example.
That is a very damning notion when you put that back on these groups that are saying no to all these pipelines. Look at it in a different way. Look at what’s happening in New England, literally right now, because they’re about to have another polar vortex move there in New England.
They’re scrambling around with fuel oil, and they’re scrambling around to import LNG from Russia and other nations, because for the last several years the political leadership in the New England states has said no to pipeline expansion.
Russel: It’s absolutely ridiculous. If you think about it, there’s been a huge development of natural gas capacity in the Marcellus, in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area. If you let these pipelines get built, you’re actually going to deliver lower cost energy, because the energy that’s going up there now, given the current infrastructure, is coming from the Gulf Coast.
If I move it 500 miles instead of 2,000, it’s going to be less expensive.
David: It’s less expensive, it’s more environmentally safe, it’s more efficient, it’s the right thing to do, it lowers costs for families and consumers. We estimated, when we looked at this after the first big storm that hit the New England states in mid-December, we looked at a 30-day period… a little more than that … let’s call it a 45-day period, and found that the New England states, in aggregate, paid about $2 billion — $2 billion more — for electricity than they otherwise should have had they built these pipelines.
Russel: Who did this study? Is this a public domain thing?
David: Yeah. It’s on the Consumer Energy Alliance website. You can go grab it. Look at our “Pipelines for America” campaign and grab some of the press releases around that study off our websites, consumerenergyalliance.org.
Russel: Perfect. We’ll definitely link that up in the show notes because I suspect we have listeners that would find that to be a useful resource.
David: Absolutely, and that just captured part of it. The cold winter continues, so the costs just continue to go up. It hurts those that can least afford to pay more.
You and I, Russel, and the listeners on the podcast, we should all be paying about, according to the Department of Commerce, we should pay about six or eight percent of our monthly income on energy. That’s gasoline and electricity, largely.
Energy costs are basically static. The closer you get to the poverty level, the more you’re paying. In many states, folks that are at the poverty level are paying as much as 35 or 40 percent of their monthly income on energy.
When you have something like we saw in the New England states, where it is unfairly and unnecessarily, due to poor public policy decisions, increasing electricity prices, because we have homegrown natural gas that’s just a few states away, those folks at the poverty level are the ones that the most acutely impacted.
You have these groups that are out there protesting pipelines and saying no to pipelines from the public policy perspective, and they’re hurting the folks that can least afford to do something about it. That’s just not right.
Russel: Yeah, and that’s always the case with energy costs, right? What’s unfair about it, if you want to call it that, is that all of us have the same basic costs. We all drive about the same amount, we’re all spending about the same amount to light our house, to cool our house, cook, and all those kinds of things.
That’s a fixed cost that everybody gets treated the same way, so the people most impacted when those costs are out of line or higher are the ones who are at the lower end of the income scale.
David: Absolutely. At Consumer Energy Alliance, we try to take this non-partisan, or bi-partisan, approach to energy. Like everything else in today’s society, everything becomes so partisan, so you typically have Democrats that are on the anti-oil and gas, anti-pipeline side now all of a sudden, and you have Republicans that are all pro-oil and gas and pro-pipeline and anti-alternative energy, and they’re both wrong.
We need diversity of energy like we need everything else. What we’re trying to do is cultivate and provide the additional understanding for pro-energy Democrats, and allow them a sensible path to supporting energy, energy issues, and what it means for constituencies all across the country, just like all of us are working with pro-energy Republicans on a sensible energy future.
This is an issue, in our view, that should be non-partisan, not even bi-partisan. It should be non-partisan, because a sensible energy policy in the United States helps every single aspect of the economy and helps every single family throughout the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, like everything else, it’s become a big, partisan argument.
Russel: That’s a whole ‘nother conversation about why is it that all of a sudden, we seem in the last 10 years or 15 years, we just look for things to argue about.
David: I know. It’s really unfortunate.
Russel: Versus having a rational conversation, and being able to listen to another viewpoint, and having a fundamental belief that there is value, there is truth in the other viewpoint. It’s very interesting to me.
I did a blogpost about this shortly after Trump got elected. Many of his first executive orders were all about pipelines. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s going on in the executive branch around permitting and regulatory requirements from your perspective?
David: Great question. It’s interesting with Trump, and the Trump phenomenon, and where folks stand on Trump. He definitely has understood that energy and energy infrastructure are a very good pathway to economic dominance in the United States.
It’s a way of bringing new jobs, new manufacturing jobs. It’s a way to reach middle class, Midwestern Americans who are relying on safe, affordable, abundant energy, and the delivery of that energy.
That is one of the things that, wherever you stand on Trump, that is something that he deserves credit for, fundamentally understanding how important energy and sustainable energy production, and that the energy revolution that is occurring in this country had to capture that and continue that.
You’re exactly right. Some of his very first executive orders were to permit and approve the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline. He continues that effort now and discussions in Washington around infrastructure and the need for improved infrastructure. Not only in roads, and bridges, and ports, but pipelines and energy delivery mechanisms are all part of that.
Working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, which is the federal body that oversees permitting for pipelines, they’re looking at ways to streamline that to give FERC more authority to make faster decisions from an infrastructure standpoint.
One of the things that is being discussed in Washington is why it takes so long and why it takes so many different permits from different agencies that have to review things like pipelines and infrastructure projects. They don’t do the reviews concurrently. They do the reviews consecutively.
Russel: They’re not integrated. They’re independent.
David: They’re not integrated and they’re not talking to each other. It’s a real sensible, practical, logical question to ask. How can states do it so quickly and effectively, but the federal government is holding the ball down in some of these poor decision processes?
Russel: That varies largely by state. Some states are quick and some…
David: Correct. That is true. We’re looking at the state to do it well. That’s a good point.
Russel: The thing I would advocate is there ought to be an expedited approval process for anything that is a modernization of infrastructure that’s older than some number. For example, if Russel were made king of the world, we would expedite the approval of any pipeline project where the pipeline is 50-years-old or older.
David: That’s such a simple, logical point.
Russel: That’s probably the flaw in it. It’s too simple and logical.
David: You’re also seeing the same opposition groups that are protesting upgrades and expansions to existing pipelines that are older, to make your point.
Russel: They’re actually standing in the way of lowering environmental risk.
David: Correct. By definition, a newer pipeline is safer and more environmentally responsible than an older pipeline.
Russel: For all kinds of reasons related to manufacturing processes, construction processes, recordkeeping processes, management processes. That’s the one that mind boggles, really mind boggles me.
There are pipelines in the U.S. where they’re in river crossings, they are 60, 65, 70 years old, and they’re well maintained and well operated. The operating entities want to replace and upgrade, and the biggest challenge they have is navigating the doggone permitting process. It’s crazy.
David: Absolutely. Finding ways that you make those permitting processes streamlined, transparent, efficient. You still give public comment and allow for input. That’s always going to be part of the process.
You’re seeing some of the groups that are opposed to Trump’s infrastructure plans saying, “You’re taking our voice away.” That could not be further from the truth. There are built-in comment processes both at the local level, state level, and federal level that will continue.
Russel: If you work in this environment at all, if you have an interest in it, you work in it, whether you’re a paid consultant or an employee of a company, or just an interested party, you know that it’s not that hard to make comments.
Those comments, every single one of them gets dealt with. Not a single comment that’s made is ignored.
David: There was a pipeline project in Louisiana that is still ongoing. There was a public comment opportunity. I guess it’s about a year ago. Former Senator, Mary Landrieu, stood up to comment and comment in support of this pipeline, and literally, literally, Russel, she was shouted out of the room by, you would assume, were other folks from Louisiana.
She is a daughter of Louisiana, a family that goes back generations that have given their lives to public service in that state and for the nation. To see that kind of rude behavior at someone of Mary Landrieu’s stature, you don’t know if that person works from out of state. You don’t know anything about that person.
It was more than one. She was booed off the stage over a pipeline issue that was largely an expansion upgraded pipeline that would have benefited the state, benefited the environment, and brought more product to market to lower costs for consumers. It was embarrassing, frankly.
Russel: David, let me ask you this question. Most of our listeners are people who work in the pipeline business. What would you tell them, how would you equip them to deal with this reality?
David: That’s such a good question. It’s the key question. The short answer is get involved. We’re all ambassadors for the pipeline business. Everyone that’s listening to this podcast has forgotten more about pipelines than 99.9 percent of the rest of the public will ever know.
Show up at public hearings. Have the conversation over the Thanksgiving table with your uncle that is on the other side of the political spectrum and doesn’t understand pipelines. Don’t be afraid to tell him where he is making his mistakes.
Stay involved. Comment on news articles that are incorrect. Expand the knowledge of the general public about how important pipelines are to each and every one of us on a daily basis. That’s first and foremost.
Stay involved in the political arena. Who we elect at the city level, at the county level, who we send to Washington, that matters to us. As we’re seeing now with some of these opposition groups who are trying to impact the regulatory process in a way that shuts down the opportunity to build new pipelines.
If you have the wrong person in that regulatory body, that can impact your livelihood. That can impact the livelihood of a pipeline company, and most importantly, that can impact the livelihood of family or the business that’s on the other end of the pipeline that needs that lower cost, safe, and reliable energy to heat their home or power their business. It matters.
Russel: I’ll tell you a little personal story, an anecdote of mine. I have some family that lives up in Portland, Oregon. I was up there. This has been two, maybe three years ago. I was up there doing some work and spending some vacation time.
I’m hanging out at my cousin’s house. They’re asking all the normal questions because I hadn’t seen them in a while. What do you do? Tell me about that. I asked them. I said, “Do you guys have pipelines up here around Portland?” They’re like, “No, no, no. We don’t have any pipelines. We don’t have any pipelines.” [laughs]
If you go to Portland, Oregon, and you go along the Columbia River, and you see all of these jet fuel terminals, and refined product terminals, they’ve got natural gas coming to their homes, like, “You guys don’t get it.” [laughs]
They’re everywhere. You just don’t know. The reason you don’t know that they’re everywhere is because there’s very rarely a problem. The challenge is — I say this all the time — in the pipeline business, it’s like being an offensive lineman in football. The only time you get your number called over the PA is when you screw up.
David: Absolutely right. They’re everywhere. Millions of miles of pipelines. Millions.
Russel: That’s right. When there is an issue, they tend to be larger because they’re carrying more product than you would see on a truck or something like that. There is that reality. A big part of what people can do is have the conversation and educate.
I don’t mean proselytize. I’m just saying, if somebody asks you what you do, tell them what you do, and why you do it, and why it’s important.
David: It is so important. We all take pride in what we do, sometimes, when you see somebody that’s making a jerk of themselves out there protesting pipelines, our natural reaction is, “Man, that guy is just a jerk. No one is going to listen to him.”
Sometimes, these regulatory guys are listening to them. Have the opportunity. We were just in an event, a public process in North Carolina, unrelated to pipelines, but it was a public process related to some offshore issues in that county.
There were a lot of CEA members that were there. They were very respectful. The other side was shrill and rude, and the county commissioners ended up getting so turned off by the antics of these anti-energy groups that they ended up going in the exact opposite direction that the anti-energy groups wanted them to go.
During the process, they complimented the energy folks about their decorum and how polite they were, but they were really there and made their case in a respectful way.
It’s also another way to recognize that we’re all ambassadors for these critical energy issues. If we don’t act as ambassadors in a thoughtful respectful way, we can lose. We very well could lose some of these critical issues in the country. If we lose, then the country loses.
Russel: I couldn’t agree with you more. David, I think that’s a good place to wrap it up. One of the things I like to do at the end of these podcasts is try to boil this all down to three key takeaways. I think I have them, but back to your commentary.
I think the first thing that you make a really good point that there needs to be balance in the conversation. It seems like this shrill angry opposition voice seems to be dominant and part of what we need to do is balance the conversation. Not by being equally shrill and such, but by participating and doing that in a thoughtful and professional way. That’s one key takeaway.
I think the other thing is there’s a lot of need for education because people just don’t know. They don’t know that pipelines are even there, that they’re relying on them, and that the abundance or lack of same directly impacts our pocketbook.
Then, lastly, and I think you used a great term, we each of us is an ambassador for our business. To the extent each of us can do a better job of telling our story and listening to the opposition because there is reasonable opposition out there. It needs to be listened to and their concerns need to be addressed. To the extent we can do those things, it’s better for all of us. Ultimately, this makes our country a better place to live.
David: I think that’s a hell of a summary.
Russel: Good. I like you like it.
David: I think we’ve gotten a lot covered in 30 minutes.
Russel: [laughs] Exactly.
Russel: David, thank you so much for being a guest. I think you brought a unique perspective considering some of the other things we’ve talking about on the podcast. I’m very interested to hear what the listeners have to say about this. We’ll listen to them and see what they have to say.
David: Excellent, Russel. Thank you very much and really, really appreciate you having me on.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Pipeliners Podcast. I certainly enjoyed talking to David Holt. I’m taking away a little bit different perspective about our business and some things might be able to do to advocate on behalf of what we do this to the benefit of the economy.
Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics that you’d be interested in, please reach out to us either on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or you can reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. My profile is Russel Treat. That’s R-U-S-S-E-L just one l. Treat just like it sounds T-R-E-A-T. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords