Michigan Lighthouse

Source: Lansing State Journal

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), residents in the Detroit, Ann Arbor and Flint are paying 20 percent more than the national average for electricity.

We all wish these costs were lower. For many of our friends and neighbors, these extra costs cause even more of a struggle.

Economists caution that energy costs should account for 6 percent or less of a monthly household’s income. But for the bottom fifth of households, it can take up 22 percent of these household’s after-tax income, per the BLS. For these households, affording necessities like food, clothing and shelter is already a daunting and reoccurring challenge before a bill like this comes around.

Another analysis yielded similar findings: Groundswell, a renewable energy advocacy group, said in a recent report that the bottom 20 percent of earners typically spend nearly 10 percent of their income solely on electricity – more than seven times what the top fifth pay. More than half of those also live at or below the federal poverty level.

And per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 23 million people required some sort of federal assistance to help pay for electricity in 2011, including many in Michigan.

Why is this happening, especially at a time when America is amid an energy renaissance with more oil and natural gas available than ever before, and technological advances that have made solar and wind more readily available?

It’s because energy prices also depend on local infrastructure to ensure that the energy gets to where it’s needed – and we don’t have enough of it.

A lack of adequate pipelines and infrastructure act as a regressive tax for cash-strapped families, seniors living on fixed incomes and households with incomes below the poverty mark. And unlike other necessities – like housing, food and health care – these families often cannot shop elsewhere for cheaper alternatives, and local and federal governments regularly do not have the resources to assist.

Yet these neighbors, living on the margins of society, are rarely mentioned during discussions about pipelines and energy infrastructure, and they should be.

They’re affected most.

We all know what local energy development can bring to a community – tax relief, greater energy self-sufficiency, mounds of new jobs. We also know that pipelines are statistically the safest way to move energy. In fact, moving oil and gas by pipeline is 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume across the same distance by other means, and 99.999 percent of what’s moved via pipeline safely reaches its destination.

By increasing local development, bringing in more low-cost energy, reducing bottlenecks and lessening strain on current infrastructure, building more pipelines also helps lower utility bills.

The last thing families need is for their bills to increase unnecessarily, but unless we invest more in our energy delivery infrastructure, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, especially for those who can least afford it.

Not to mention, the cost of virtually every other U.S.-made good and service would also rise, since oil and gas help make just about every item we use daily, including the clothes we wear, the shampoo we use, the medication we take and the food we eat. If the price of a key ingredient in the manufacturing of these products goes up, so does its price tag.

There’s only one way to help the tens of thousands of Michiganders who already pay far more than they should to keep the lights: build more pipelines.

Christopher Ventura is Midwest Director for Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).

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