Mr. Frank's Wild River
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act vs an LNG Port
EDITORIAL / Wall Street Journal 9jul2008
The scenic Taunton River, Fall River, Mass.
photo: Abbott-Boyle Photographers
Behold the Taunton River in Fall River, Massachusetts, pictured nearby. Congressman Barney Frank thinks your family would love to visit this scenic wilderness. Among its attractions are the fuel-storage tanks along the eastern shore. The container ships and piers are always a hit with the children looking for a place to romp.
This could be America's next "wild and scenic river," if Mr. Frank gets his way. Last month the powerful Congressman pushed a bill through the House Natural Resources Committee that would give the Taunton River that designation under federal law. The bill could come up for a vote on the House floor soon. If you're beginning to sense that there may be more going on here than love of nature, keep reading.
The 40-year-old Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed to protect certain rivers from development. To qualify, says the law, a river should "possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values." If they are designated under the act, the rivers and their "immediate environment" are then protected from development or industrial uses. We've got nothing against container docks, but the Taunton River would not seem to qualify as wild, much less scenic, under any of the law's descriptive qualities.
Mr. Frank's real agenda can be spied on the right-hand shore in this picture. This is the proposed site of a terminal for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG). The terminal would be located right about where those five white storage tanks are at the top of the picture – hardly untrammeled wilderness. The Congressman, whose district includes part of Fall River and the Taunton River, has long opposed the LNG port.
Mr. Frank claims that the wild and scenic designation has nothing to do with the terminal. But six months before the terminal was first proposed in 2002, Mr. Frank had advocated dredging this not so pristine landscape to preserve its viability as an industrial port. Suddenly, he's discovered its wild, natural beauty. Mr. Frank has also blocked the demolition of the Brightman Street Bridge just downriver from the site, with the aim of blocking ship access to any LNG terminal.
With energy prices as high as they are, you'd think Mr. Frank and his Capitol Hill mates would have some sympathy for constituents who are squeezed at the pump, and on their heating and electrical bills. New England relies heavily on natural gas for both of the latter. Most of the LNG terminals for importing foreign natural gas are down in the Gulf of Mexico. So foreign or domestic natural gas for New England has to be piped all the way from the Gulf, adding to already high fuel costs.
Yet Mr. Frank is resisting this chance to bring more supply on line. Democrats seem to think they can avoid the blame for those rising costs, and it's true that supply is only one component of the current price equation; the devaluation of the dollar also plays a role. But when everything from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration in the Rockies to the development of Alaska and the importation of LNG to New England are all ruled out of bounds, a policy agenda becomes clear.
That policy is hostility to greater supplies of carbon energy that would help keep prices lower. Mr. Frank's gambit reveals that policy in all its wild and scenic political grandeur.
source: p.A14 9jul2008