by Cindy Cunningham
Yesterday, Ralph Northam, who we haven’t seen much of since his June 13th win in the primary, emerged in an interview on the far-right-wing radio show, The John Fredericks Show (audio at the end of this post), where he officially stopped hedging about his position on the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.
Fredericks asked “If it’s approved by the federal FERQ agency…if you’re governor of Virginia, you’re going to do nothing to hinder and stand in the way or delay it, you’re going to be enthusiastic and go forward with it, is that what I’ve heard?”
Northam replied, “Yeah, sure. And you know, again it’s the permitting process is–not to get too into the weeds of all that–but you know, we’ve gone from a blanket permit to more of a site-specific, just to look at where there are streams and rivers. So, you know if it’s done safely and responsibly, it’s gonna move forward.”
Like many people I know, this left me seething angry. Not surprised, mind you, but angry nonetheless. Because as soon as Tom Perriello lost, I feared that the candidate who’d been refusing to give a clear answer on the pipelines, who’d taken over $200,000 from Dominion and who owned an unknown amount of stock in Dominion Power, might not take the right position on this critical issue. So on June 16th, I wrote to his campaign, informing him that I strongly oppose these pipelines, and that I would like him to take the same position. I said that until he opposed the pipelines, I couldn’t be his enthusiastic supporter. I received no response. Not even the courtesy robo-response. And now, with today’s interview, he outright gives the middle finger to me and all the other progressive voters who care about our environment, who care about the beautiful forests and mountains of Virginia that will be destroyed, who care about their fellow Virginians whose land will be taken. He is letting us know that he has no interest in winning our support, that he thinks he doesn’t need our votes. Perhaps he thinks we should “just get over it.”
You can deride people who say that they won’t vote for Ralph Northam in November, but the truth is that it’s Northam who has chosen to drive a wedge into the Democratic Party of Virginia. By choosing to ignore the voices that are clamoring for him to take a stronger position against the pipelines–a position, by the way, that matches Democratic principles of “securing environmental and climate justice,” “protecting our public lands and waters,” “building a clean energy economy,” and “protecting the property rights of landowners from Natural Gas Companies making examinations, tests, land auger borings, appraisals, and surveys without the written consent of the landowner,” he is splitting our party apart.
Maybe it’s not a loud enough, resounding enough voice for him to think he needs to pay attention to? But, I ask you: is there some loud, resounding voice in the Democratic party calling for the building of these pipelines? Who exactly is pro-pipeline? Only those who stand to profit from them. Perhaps it’s all the people in Virginia who will get great jobs from this new enterprise. Not according to this report from the APPPL. Perhaps consumers in Virginia will all benefit from lower energy prices. Not according to a Southern Environmental Law Center report. And even if building these pipelines resulted in energy price reductions, who benefits, and at whose expense? Are Democrats in the business of robbing land from people who are already struggling, to redistribute the wealth to energy-consuming businesses? Are we in the business of exposing one group of people to poisoned water and toxic hazards to lower energy prices for others? No.
So where do we go from here? What do we do with our seething anger? Well, each person has to follow his or her own conscience here. There will be many who do not vote. Or who vote for someone else. We don’t get to shame them, or call them idiots, or tell them to just get over it, because our vote is our voice, and we’re all entitled to determine for ourselves how much weight to put on a particular issue. Others will hold their noses and vote for Northam. But perhaps they won’t donate, or won’t volunteer, or won’t remind all their friends to go out and vote for him.
But this is a false choice. There are plenty of other ways I will be heard regardless of which way I decide to vote. I can continue to voice opposition to the pipelines, and to insist that Northam do the same. I can write letters and emails to him over and over, leave messages with his campaign, comment on those charming facebook posts of his, tweet at him, write letters to the Sierra Club asking them to rescind their endorsement of him. I hope you will join me. We can and should also write letters to legislators, and those hoping to be legislators, asking them to take the Water Security Pledge. I can write articles such as this and letters to the editor, voicing my anger, and we can all attend events in the affected counties (like the DEQ hearing in Radford and Chatham) and participate in their protests and offer any help we can. We can share videos and news stories with friends to make them aware, to encourage them to speak out with us. In short, we will prove to him that we will not “just get over it.”
Oh, and one other thing I will do. When I hear something like that “we’ve gone from a blanket permit to more of a site-specific,” I will call this out as what it is: simply not true. Northam said in a debate in Roanoke during the primary, “I was the only one on this stage that actually wrote a letter to the DEQ and had communication with the DEQ to do what I could as Lieutenant Governor through the executive branch to make sure that we changed from blanket permitting to a site-specific permitting, which they followed my lead on.” As we all found out, while in April the DEQ indicated it would use individual site-specific permits for each water and wetlands crossing, 7 weeks later they admitted they weren’t doing that and said that it was some sort of “internal communications error.” Now, in fact, DEQ says it will use the Army Corps of Engineers blanket permit for most of the ACP route and will conduct extra research (through a Dominion contractor) only in the headlands (perhaps what Northam was talking about). Are you seething yet?