A comment would seem appropriate on how leadership is about making hard decision. But the problem is recent decisions from local boards are not hard. Worse yet, there are no huge ideological, political or other major obstacles either. County boards can sometimes be their own biggest obstacles.
Let’s take the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. An exhaustive three-year process over several states and dozens of counties has explored every angle of the project. A dozen federal agencies have weighed in. Community engagement at numerous public hearings has occurred all along the route. Everyone has had multiple opportunities for feedback.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released the final environmental impact statement on July 21, stating it is safe to build. After all, it’s natural gas. It’s clean energy. It replaces dirtier, coal-fired energy. Pipelines of natural gas already safely crisscross the nationm including Robeson County, like spider webs.
The county commissioners understand Robeson needs this infrastructure more than anyone on the pipeline route. At least, they initially understood its valuable to a poor county.
Suddenly, at the end of the three-year process, they balk because environmentalists want to use Robeson as a last-ditch effort, having failed in other counties.
Unlike natural gas, oil pipelines really did pose a problem to the environment. Environmentalists said polar bear populations would be wiped out if Alaska built one. Years later the opposite happened. Research found that polar bears and other species actually increased after the pipeline. It seems wildlife liked the warmth from the pipes.
Robeson is no different. The county desperately needs the infrastructure to attract industry and wildlife has been safe around natural gas for a long time.
Well, then there is the opposition that it is being built largely on poor landowners property. No one doubts that if the line were built largely on wealthy landowners property then the argument would be the ACP is only benefiting wealthy landowners. That’s a head-scratcher.
The point is Robeson needs the pipeline more than any other county and most understand that. Polar bears will be fine. Poor landowners will benefit. Everyone benefits from this much needed shot in the economical arm of Robeson. It’s not a difficult decision.
The Board of Education is making easy decisions hard as well. No one is naïve enough to think racism is completely extinct. But the majority of thinking people don’t care about skin color and neither should the school board.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott became the first black senator from the South since reconstruction. He won despite African-American’s voting for his white counterpart while whites voted for Sen. Scott. The point being, people care more about ideology. They will vote for whoever represents their interest.
But education in Robeson is not something that falls on an ideological scale any more than a pipeline. Democrats and Republicans can join in supporting county infrastructure. Both can come together to support good educational leaders. In other words, most everyone has the same interest of good education. Everyone just wants someone to bring the educational system together.
It’s exhausting to watch these boards work sometime. So here’s a solution that no one asked for but the boards really know is true.
First, the county board should politely listen to legitimate opposition to the ACP. That’s only fair. But it should unanimously support this vital infrastructure that will help sustain a poor county.
Secondly, school board members should really take each other out to a nice lunch. They should be colorblind in finding the most qualified educational leader. Then to demonstrate solidarity they should unanimously hire that leader. Then get out of the leaders way. Unanimous support is important otherwise we drive good leaders away.
When it comes to infrastructure and education in a poor county, these boards do have a tough job. But they shouldn’t make it tougher.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party