by Kelly Trout of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network
With chants of “Yes, You Can Stop the Pipelines!,” 50 Virginians, including veterans, students, faith activists and landowners, kicked-off a three-day picket outside of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Richmond offices this morning. Last week, during a WTOP interview, Governor McAuliffe again dismissed his authority to take any action against fracked-gas pipelines proposed in Virginia, while touting his frequent meetings with Dominion and saying a lot of other inaccurate and misleading things.
The theme of this week’s protest is: Governor, yes you can. Over three days of picketing, citizens will highlight three ways Governor McAuliffe’s administration must stop denying—and start using—its executive authority and political leadership to protect Virginians from three urgent fossil fuel threats: pipelines, toxic coal ash, and rising sea levels driven by global warming.
The first day of picketing kicked off this morning with a press conference on the Capitol grounds, and united Virginians from Giles County to Buckingham County to Nelson County who are being directly affected by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“We need Governor McAuliffe on the side of the citizens to keep our water clean,” said Don Jones, who stood next to his 86-year-old father George Jones, a Korean War veteran whose 10th-generation Virginia family farm would be bisected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Giles County. “We need water to survive, the gas we don’t, and Governor McAuliffe has the power to help us.”
Legal experts today released a fact sheet outlining exactly how the McAuliffe administration does have power over pipeline permitting. The case is clear: Under the Clean Water Act, the McAuliffe administration has authority to either approve or deny a section 401 Water Quality Certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
So, instead of cheerleading these projects, or effectively saying “it’s not my problem,” Governor McAuliffe can and should be ensuring that state regulators actively exercise this authority, and protect the drinking water and waterways of Virginians now and for generations to come. That’s how Governor Andrew Cuomo protected the water resources of New York State from a proposed 124-mile fracked-gas pipeline in April.
“For many months, Governor McAuliffe has denied that he has authority to protect Virginians from the damages these pipelines would cause if built,” said David Sligh, Regulatory Systems Investigator with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition who also joined the picket line today. “The law clearly contradicts his assertions, a fact that may explain why the Governor’s office and top environmental officials refuse to respond to the detailed information we’ve sent them or answer the specific questions we’ve asked regarding this issue.”
People are converging on Richmond this week from every region of the state—from southwest Virginia to Nelson County to Northern Virginia to Norfolk—to join the picket line in front of the Governor’s offices in the Patrick Henry Building.
“How many communities must be destroyed before Governor McAuliffe and our political leaders decide enough is enough?,” asked Pastor Paul Wilson, who ministers to the Union Hill and Union Grove Missionary Baptist Churches and will join the picket line on Wednesday. His churches are within a half-mile of Dominion’s proposed 53,000-horsepower compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“The 200 people I serve stand to lose their health, property values, and quality of life, while Dominion stands to profit. It’s not too late for Governor McAuliffe to get on the right side of history and to tell Dominion ‘no,’” added Wilson.
Tomorrow, Dan Marrow, a father from Dumfries, plans to bring a bottle of contaminated water from his family’s drinking well, and ask the Governor to sample it. The “Dominion Water” will list on the bottle the concentrations of toxins found in his family’s well, which is a short distance from a coal ash waste pond operated by Dominion Virginia Power.
On Tuesday—“Day 2” of the picket—citizens will tell Governor McAuliffe, “Yes, you can protect our water from coal ash,” by requiring Dominion to move the toxic waste away from rivers to modern, lined landfills, just as the Carolinas and Georgia are requiring utilities to do. Dominion is currently seeking sign off to bury its coal ash in place—a “pollute in place” plan that could contaminate rivers and drinking water sources for decades to come.
On Wednesday—“Day 3” of the picket—coastal Hampton Roads residents will come to Richmond to demand that Governor McAuliffe champion 100% clean energy and state-based adaptation solutions to protect their homes from growing flooding.
“Governor McAuliffe has shown a stunning lack of political courage when it comes to climate change—and my generation will pay the price,” said Izzy Pezzulo, a junior at the University of Richmond and member of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition. “We’re at the point where half-measures are unacceptable. Climate leadership means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and that means saying ‘no’ to pipelines.”
Another sign carried on the picket line today reads, “Gov. McAuliffe: Your pipeline support = climate denial.” An alarming new report released in September by Oil Change International shows that investments in new fossil fuels, including new fracking wells and pipelines, must stop now in order to avoid catastrophic climate impacts — like the permanent flooding of Virginia’s coastal communities and military bases. In other words, if Gov. McAuliffe is committed to leaving a legacy of climate action, and protecting Virginia’s coast from rising seas, he needs to help stop fracked-gas pipelines — not support them.
Meanwhile, polling released in September indicates that voters in Virginia largely agree. Seventy-one percent of those polled believe Governor McAuliffe should follow the approach of other southern states on coal ash disposal. Additionally, only 28% of Virginia voters said they support Governor McAuliffe’s efforts to build fracked-gas pipelines, with 55% opposed.
Governor McAuliffe does have the power to make a difference. Through executive actions and political leadership, he can put people above polluters:
- Gov. McAuliffe’s administration can make the determination that proposed fracked-gas pipelines violate the Clean Water Act.
- Gov. McAuliffe’s administration can require Dominion to move toxic coal ash away from waterways.
- Gov. McAuliffe can champion state-based solutions to protect Virginia’s coast from rising seas.
Virginians will be outside his offices the next two days, urging him to muster the political will to act.