Dominion’s Bought-And-Paid-For Supporters vs. Grassroots Atlantic Coast Pipeline Opponents

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    Free Nelson attended Thursday night’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meeting in the Shenandoah Valley. The meeting was designed to hear concerns from the public regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and to contribute input towards the Environmental impact study (EIS) FERC is required to conduct.  

    What we found truly astonishing about this meeting was the lengths to which Dominion Power continues to sink in its efforts to create the appearance of support for its ill-conceived, dirty fossil fuel pipeline. Some of the tactics used by Dominion are eerily similar to a 6-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, and they’re just as unattractive.

    After inviting folks who do not live in the affected areas of the proposed ACP, Dominion’s uninformed “plants” attended a pre-meeting meal supplied by Dominion. To be allowed to speak, everyone had to stand in line to receive a speaker number. Everyone, that is, except – surprise, surprise! – Dominion supporters. One Dominion supporter even tried and failed to cut into the front of the line. After a commotion, he was summarily sent to the back, grumbling all the way.

    When grassroots activists arrived at Stuarts Draft High School at 5 pm, Dominion was already present and had put up its “clean energy” signs.  Friends of Augusta and Augusta County Alliance volunteers put up two large “No Pipeline” signs, dwarfing Dominion’s yard signs.  Dominion reps came out and added a dozen more yard signs. Grassroots activists continued by putting up yard signs — this time, a set of No Pipeline signs harkening back to the old “Burma Shave” signs.

    Again, Dominion reps appeared with more “Clean Energy” signs, placing them so as to block the message of the Burma Shave signs. Volunteer Tom Harvey insisted Dominion move those signs from blocking our message. As both the activists and Dominion countered with signs, Mr. Harvey approached a Dominion employee stating he had 1,000 signs in his vehicle. He suggested he could put them all up or they could call a truce, which the Dominion representative readily agreed to.

    A few minutes later, a Dominion representative was seen removing him from the line, and replacing him with a Dominion staffer, a place holder of sorts, who signed the “plant” up to speak while he was enjoying Dominion’s dinner. Note that grassroots activists attempted to enter the Dominion dinner, but were turned away and told it was for Dominion supporters only.

    The “plants” testifying before FERC started their remarks either with the words, “I was told,” or simply repeated Dominion’s talking points verbatim from their printed propaganda. One man from West Virginia stated that his farm is leased for fracking wells, and how nicely he is treated by the gas company. We noted that he chooses not to live on that farm, however, since he now claims to be a resident of Augusta County, Virginia.

    Clearly, these folks were brought in by Dominion to take time away from landowners and community members who have legitimate concerns. While not unexpected, it is a deplorable tactic used to stop, or at least discourage, those opposed to the pipeline from speaking. As occurred in Nelson Wednesday night, the Thursday FERC meeting was shut down well before all were allowed to share their concerns.

    Even with the blatant attempts to tilt the meeting in Domnion’s favor, what’s amazing is that only 16 of the 64 speakers spoke in favor of the proposed ACP. We wonder if Dominion would have had any supporters at the meeting at all had they not brought their support in from other jurisdictions and paid them off by giving them a free meal.

    • pontoon

      To the  FERC website regarding the proposed ACP:

      Timothy Jost, Harrisonburg, VA.

      I attended the hearing last night on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Stuarts Draft Virginia.  Several hundred people showed up for the hearing.  Both Dominion and opponents handed out stickers for people to wear as they entered, and it was clear that sentiment was overwhelmingly against the pipeline. Dozens of people registered to speak.  My wife and I arrived about a half hour early, but she was assigned number 78 and was in fact the last person to speak, at 10:30.  

      Dominion managed to stack the deck of speakers. Of the first 20 speakers, probably 15 were supporters.  Of the next 55 or so speakers, all but one or two were opposed to the pipeline.  Of course, the TV cameras left after the first few speakers, and the local TV channel reported that most of the speakers supported the pipeline.

      It is unclear how exactly Dominion stacked the deck.  They apparently held a reception for their supporters and fed them before the hearing, and maybe they just got them to show up early.  There were rumors, however, that they had ringers get there early to sign their speakers in.  This certainly seemed possible, as a number of the early speakers whose names were called were not present.  It looked like Dominion had collected names beforehand (they called us a few days before the hearing to ask us to come), and then had ringers show up to sign those people in, and not all showed up.

      From news reports, exactly the same thing happened at the FERC hearing at Nelson County.  There opponents were told when the doors would open, but when they showed up at that time, Dominion had already signed in its supporters.

      Dominion’s stacking the hearing made it appear to the media, which predictably did not stick around for 3.5 hours, that Dominion had much more support than it did.  It also meant, however, that a number of opponents were denied the right to speak because comments were cut off at 10:30, when a number of people, overwhelmingly opponents, were still waiting to speak.

      Of course, we were told we could submit comments in writing.  Some speakers were in their 80s.  Others were simply country people whose family farms are threatened with confiscation. These are the people for whom oral hearings exist- they are not going to submit written comments.

      There is an easy solution to this problem, and I urge you to adopt it for the remaining pipeline hearings.  Have people sign in as they arrive.  As of the time the hearing is to begin, put all the numbers in a basket.  Have the officials conducting the hearing pull numbers out of a basket and call people randomly.   This will give you, and the media, a much better feeling for the sentiment in the room.  It will also give you better information, since most of the supporters simply repeated Dominion talking points about jobs and cheap energy while the opponents addressed the real issue in the hearing–the specific siting of the pipeline.

      A number of people expressed a strong distrust of the FERC last night, stating that they think it is in the pocket of Dominion.  The way in which the hearing was conducted certainly reinforced that belief.  If you want to appear to be the impartial arbiter you are supposed to be, then don’t let Dominion stack the hearing.

      I urge you to make this change immediately for all future Atlantic Coast pipeline hearings./blockquote>

    • swvagrl

      Are you writing response letters and/or asking for clarifications by the media about their reporting? I hope so. Those of us in the Preserve groups against the Mountain Valley Pipeline have already heard about what happened, and we support you. But, the public needs to know, too.