A fight in Appalachia came to the Leesburg courthouse lawn Saturday as people from southwest and northern Virginia came together calling for action on two planned fracked gas pipelines through Virginia.
The 312-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline both cut across Virginia’s mountainous west, transporting natural gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And opposition to those pipelines has been fierce and sustained.
In February, Dominion Energy disclosed that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has been delayed to 2020, and another $1 billion added to the estimated $6-$6.5 billion cost, in the face of ongoing lawsuits that have forced a stop to construction. But despite repeated problems with the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, such as construction materials and waste washing out into neighboring communities and streams, work continues.
Both face ongoing lawsuits from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, but protestors came to Herring’s hometown of Leesburg to demand more—such as pushing for a stop-work order on the Mountain Valley Pipeline project that he has alleged has broken Virginia’s environmental laws more than 300 times already. More than 100 people gathered on the courthouse lawn for demonstrations, music, and speeches.
“Attorney General Mark Herring, we need you,” said southwest Virginia native and George Washington University Law School professor Emily Hammond. “Protect Appalachia. Protect the rule of law.”
On top of crossing the Appalachian Trail and destroying miles of national forest and national parkland, the pipelines’ opponents see a larger battle at play against fossil fuels and climate change. And the protest featured some celebrities from the movement, including relatives and supporters of tree-sitters—people who have been for months living in trees along the pipeline’s route to block it—and Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and eldest daughter for former Vice President Al Gore.
“I myself, having participated in nonviolent civil disobedience action, know how that can feel when people say, ‘isn’t that extreme? Isn’t that radical?’” Gore said. “The truth is, what is extreme and what is insane is to pretend that nothing is wrong right now, to stand by and let this trajectory unfold of more and more fossil fuels being dug up and burned when we know exactly what is at stake.”
It also brought out people living in communities directly affected by the route such as Ruby Laurie, whose community in Buckingham County is near the site of a planned compressor station and said “these poisonous gases will be released into the atmosphere, and our quaint little community will not be fit for humans or animals.”
“Dominion overlooked us as if we didn’t exist, endangering those most affected by the noisy, toxic compressor station,” Laurie said. “This project will unfairly jeopardize our air, our water, our health, our lives, and our safety.”
The project has been criticized for disproportionately impacting Native American and poorer communities.
“Thank about what your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will say to you one day,” said Pastor Paul Wilson, whose two congregations, Union Hill Baptist Church and Union Grove Baptist Church, are both in Buckingham County. “’Grandpa, Grandma, what did you do to stop pollution? What did you do that we might have clean drinking water and clean air?’ And I want to be able in my old age to sit back and say, I did everything I could to do what is right.”
The Leesburg event was the second of two days of action, following a march in Richmond. It also featured two Appalachian state delegates, Dels. Chris L. Hurst (D-12) and Sam Rasoul (D-11), among other speakers.
Asked for comment, Herring’s office issued a statement.
“Attorney General Herring appreciates and shares these Virginians’ commitment to protecting our natural resources and the environment,” spokesman Micheal Kelly wrote in an email. “These pipelines have been approved and granted permits by state agencies and regulatory boards, so those are the decision makers who should hear from pipeline opponents. The Attorney General’s job is to enforce the terms of permits and put an end to violations when they are found, which is exactly what he has done with an aggressive, wide-ranging lawsuit against the company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”
Southwest Virginia native and George Washington University Law School professor Emily Hammond demonstrates Appalachian flatfooting at a protest on the Loudoun County courthouse lawn in Leesburg Saturday, May 18, 2019. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]firstname.lastname@example.org