Federal, state and local officials are typically ready to find the money required to fix problems when it comes to highway infrastructure. As a former governor, I know this is good politics. Infrastructure creates jobs, and people appreciate tangible improvements to highways and bridges. Here, taxpayers can see government at work. Yet when it comes to critical infrastructure projects such as electrical transmission equipment or pipelines, equally important, job creating initiatives often end up on the back burner — or face outright opposition.

With his recent quadrennial energy review, President Barack Obama outlined his desire for a modern American energy infrastructure system. Congress, state and local governments have also stepped up with policies and laws directed at energy infrastructure build-out. But unlike a new highway or rebuilt bridge, the political rewards are murkier for complex energy infrastructure projects that produce far reaching economic benefits but are less obvious to the naked eye.

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Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to ignore our nation's energy infrastructure needs. While we derive clear benefits from producing needed fuel here at home, those benefits will not be fully realized until we build out the network needed to deliver the products throughout the country.

Unfortunately, the highest profile energy infrastructure project of late involved the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline, turning pipelines into a political litmus test rather than what they are: catalysts for economic growth and the safest and most efficient means of delivering critical fuels. According to one study, infrastructure improvements in the oil and natural gas arena could generate as much as $1.15 trillion in new private capital investment, support 1.15 million new jobs, and add $120 billion on average per year to our nation's GDP over the next 10 years. Yet pipelines continue to be painted in ideological rather than economic terms.

In Maryland, thousands of miles from Keystone, activist groups have utilized the debate to further an agenda that rejects any development, even when residents (like those in Garrett County) stand to benefit. In the recently concluded legislative session, these same activists forced through restrictions and delays that will hurt the state and our economy in the long run.

Natural gas represents a huge opportunity for an energy independent America. Natural gas heats homes and businesses, powers manufacturing facilities and fuels power plants cleanly and efficiently. Combined with pipeline expansions in projects like Cove Point's LNG export facility right here in Maryland, we can create new markets for our gas that will benefit our region both at home and in the international community.

In nearby shale country, up to 18 billion cubic feet per day is slated to be produced by 2020, amounting to 64 percent of U.S. gas production — a huge boon to those who support the use of clean burning fuels and energy independence. Yet, regardless of how much gas we develop, if we don't improve our infrastructure constraints, much of that abundant energy will be trapped.

Just across the Mason-Dixon line in Pennsylvania, projects such as the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline promise dramatic economic impact by providing consumers in Maryland and along the East Coast with access to reliable, cost effective natural gas supply. In fact, access to natural gas supply has begun to power an American manufacturing revolution (new manufacturing plants are springing up all across America) while lowering the energy costs of regular folks who use this energy to cook meals and power their homes. The Sunrise project alone would provide enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes — thereby reducing costs and power bills for Maryland consumers.

We have a golden opportunity to create an energy future based on U.S. leadership. Maryland has a chance to play a leading role if it can overcome the baseless fears of the opposition. This future will enhance our independence, provide an economic boost to consumers and businesses alike, and assist our allies across the world. But we need to act now to make the investments that will help us reach this new era. Let's say "enough" to the politics of labels and name calling and embrace the incredible opportunities in our midst. Let's put our money down on American infrastructure.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. served as Maryland governor from 2003-2007. He is currently a partner at the firm of King & Spalding. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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