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VA Tech Professor Who Heroically Locked Herself to Pipeline Construction Equipment Says It’s “Insane” to Build Fracked-Gas Pipelines; Urges Northam, Legislators to View Damage Firsthand, Get Accurate Information

"Southwest Virginia does not want the  pipeline. No one wants the pipeline"; It is "insane" to build it.

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See below for an interview with Emily Satterwhite, the Virginia Tech professor (key area of expertise: Appalachian studies), who locked herself to construction equipment near Blacksburg on Thursday as a protest against fracked-gas pipeline construction. This interview, by David Pratt of Thunderdome Politics, was conducted at last weekend’s Women’s Summit. As Pratt writes:

“I had no idea that in just a few days she would demonstrate her absolute fierce determination to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline by chaining herself to one of the construction backhoes ripping through Virginia’s mountains. She stopped construction for 14 hours, and today DEQ stopped the MVP construction temporarily due to mudslides and other massive construction failures.”

Also see below the audio for a partial transcript from the interview (bolding added by me for emphasis). Note to everyone who claims they simply “haven’t had time” to learn about this issue: the interview with Emily Satterwhite hits all the main points and is only about 16 minutes long (a lot less if you listen on YouTube and speed it up to 1.5x, which I often do). So no excuses; as Lauren Ober of “The Big Listen” likes to say, “have a listen!” And learn why so many of us are so vehemently opposed to these pipelines.

David Pratt: So tell us about that  organization; what does it do?

Emily Satterwhite: The organization is really just a name, a banner for those of us who are fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, especially in the Jefferson National  Forest, but throughout West Virginia and Virginia. We’re working together to stand up and say the pipeline is unnecessary, it’s unneeded, it’s dangerous to our water. So it’s a loosely organized group of water protectors.

David Pratt: It’s a tough battle right now because we don’t have the governor’s support.

Emily Satterwhite: It’s really disappointing to not have the governor’s support. I’m afraid that he doesn’t understand  how much Democratic enthusiasm he’s losing on the part of potential Democratic voters by not standing up for clean water in Virginia and for the health of our children and our future. He’s a doctor and he understands how toxic the chemicals are involved in fracking…and basically laying bombs in our backyard is really concerning. I’m very disappointed, I’m sorry I voted for him. And I’m afraid that if our Democrats don’t come out strong to tell him we’re losing the next generation of Democratic  voters, then we’re going to lose the next generation voters of Democratic voters…Because the young people see it seems to be only about Dominion’s money and cozying up to corporations rather than protecting us.

David Pratt: …If the governor’s getting his news through aides, they’re misinforming him.

Emily Satterwhite: When he was on the campaign trail, he said he was going to come and talk with us, have focus groups and do stream-by-stream and he has not followed through on those campaign pledges. And you’re absolutely right; a lot of our Democratic senators and delegates are getting information about the pipeline from the wrong sources right now and they not coming to talk to us and see the damage...

David Pratt: …the lobbyists get that access and the grassroots can demand it by going there and trying to get in, but it’s very hard to get a meeting with the governor…I  would ask Dr. Northam to check his moral compass, make some time on his calendar to meet with you. Would you be willing to  meet with him?

Emily Satterwhite: I would absolutely be willing to meet him. I think he needs to go to Union Hill and talk to  people in Buckingham County about the environmental racism that his own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee told him this is a racist pipeline…choosing to place compressor stations in a freedman’s legacy town…He’s not been there yet. And when he came to Virginia Tech to speak  at our graduation, he did not come and see those of us that were directly affected by the pipeline and did not address the pipeline and did not talk to anyone about our concerns about our water.

David Pratt: And and there’s a coalition around Union Hill…and I don’t think they have had access either, so let’s encourage that access.

Emily Satterwhite: Absolutely. And now that MVP  has announced the Southgate extension from Franklin County through Pittsylvania County and into Western  North Carolina, again the environmental  justice issues are even more glaring. Obviously, the pipeline route they chose was to pick off people who are elderly or poor or unable to fight. In all the  counties, but especially when you get into more heavily African-American counties in the southern part of that route

David Pratt: It’s also the idea of  corporate eminent domain…and even Republicans, people on the right, don’t like you taking the land that’s been in their family for generations…

Emily Satterwhite: For no public necessity, no public need. They should not be allowed to use eminent domain unless there’s public need. And there’s been no established public need. FERC bought hook line and sinker the line from MVP that…because Roanoke Gas is gonna buy a little bit of the gas. But again, as far as I know, Roanoke Gas Company is the only Virginia destination for any of this fuel from the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It’s all destined for  New York City and for export to India, possibly China….Eminent domain should not be used to take  people’s property for corporate profit and that’s what the governor is allowing  to happen.

David Pratt: And it smells of the  deal made by the last governor.

Emily Satterwhite: It does. It’s very sad to know that we came to find out after McAuliffe left office that he had written off all liability, anything that needs to be fixed from the mess that this pipeline is making for maybe just a few million dollars. And Roanoke City alone is gonna have to spend $36 million to deal with the sediment load that’s coming in from the construction of this pipeline. So that’s four times as much as Gov. McAuliffe agreed to, to fix the whole state after pipeline construction.

David Pratt: …there’s a Chinese company wanting to build  an enormous petrochemical hub in West Virginia…

Emily Satterwhite: Absolutely. If people think that MVP and ACP are the last ones, they are sadly mistaken. We’re setting a precedent. If we don’t fight to stop these two pipelines, how many more people gonna have to deal with…So you might not think this affects you, it’s not in your backyard…but no one is safe from this eminent domain if we allow  them to get away with this. Anybody’s land is vulnerable to this kind of corporate land grab… 

I don’t know how many  people saw the footage of the latest pipeline explosion; there have been eight in Marshall County. But that pipeline has been supposedly best-in-class Transco  pipeline that only went into service six months ago. But the thing that really struck me is looking at that pipeline route, supposedly we’re not going to know it’s there after it’s in the ground. But this was six months out, and when you look at that drone footage, you can see that that is still an incredibly ugly scar with no sediment and erosion control, and that there’s no way that Marshall County’s water quality is not affected by that in West Virginia.  And that’s what we’re gonna see in Giles County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Virginia and Roanoke County, Virginia and Franklin County, Virginia.  We’re already seeing it. And the level of malfeasance of the contractors guarantees that any promises that they’ve made about, oh you won’t know this is even here, are just absolutely absolutely false.

And  that’s one reason that Dominion and Precision Pipeline are in this lawsuit over the fact that Precision Pipeline had built a 55-mile stretch of  pipeline, had 50 mudslides. Then they said Dominion you didn’t pay us enough. And Dominion says well you had the mudslides. And precision says, well then you didn’t tell us how tought the terrain was. And that was flat terrain. We’re talking about mountainous terrain, with caves…seismic zones…If Precision and Dominion can’t build 55 miles of pipe in a flat terrain, how are they going to safely build 303 miles in our Appalachian Mountains. It’s not possible. The hubris of it is just incredible.

David Pratt: Well, the corporations have  been raping West Virginia for hundreds of  years…our environment is really under assault…I feel like not everyone is aware of it, it’s almost out-of-sight, out-of-mind, it’s taking place hundreds of miles away. You live in Loudoun County, it’s beautiful, sunny, suburban, trees and parks…

Emily Satterwhite: What does it have to do with me? It becomes a sacrifice zone.  Appalachia has become a sacrifice zone; first coal and now it’s fracking and natural gas transmission.

David Pratt: …What can [we] do to reach the  awareness of the average person across  the state?

Emily Satterwhite: I think that one one thing  that we really need to understand is that lobbyists are trying to convince our delegates and senators that Southwest Virginia wants and needs this pipeline for economic development and jobs – and that’s a bald-faced lie.  Southwest Virginia does not want the  pipeline. No one wants the pipeline…I’ve never seen so much unity on any battle I’ve ever been involved in. No one wants the pipeline. So why don’t we want it? We don’t want it because there’s no economic benefit for us: 34 permanent jobs total – that’s it…It’s a falsehood [to say there are a lot of jobs from these pipelines]. About 90 percent of the jobs are, all the license plates we see down there are Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas, some  Kentucky, Arkansas…so the the jobs are temporary jobs and they’re out-of-state jobs. And they’re only 34 permanent jobs.

We can do better. If we can invest in renewable energy and if we can invest in energy efficiency initiatives, we can have long-term permanent jobs that are closer to home that people won’t be dragging their families all the way across the country from pipeline job to pipeline job.

David Pratt: And if people care about climate change; people get confused that natural gas is cleaner.  But it’s burned and carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere.

Emily Satterwhite: And it leaks; the methane leaks from natural gas are far more potent than carbon dioxide. So we did think briefly that natural gas could be a bridge fuel and we thought that it might be a better choice than coal. And the more we learned,  the more we discovered that fracked gas is a step backwards, not a step forwards. Not just because of the methane and the leaks in the transmission, but the fracking process itself is toxic…the fracking process is poisoning livestock and it’s poisoning Americans.

David Pratt: Right. And when you build infrastructure like this, it’s gonna last 30 to 40  years, you almost feel there’s pressure to use it and to not abandon it, and to stick with fossil fuels for a long time…It seems almost insane to be investing in horses and buggies when we’ve got solar panels.

Emily Satterwhite: Exactly, it is insane...There are already more pipelines than gas.  I mean we don’t need the pipeline’s; existing pipelines are running at like 50% capacity. The only reason these pipelines are being built is because investors are guaranteed a 14 percent rate of return – and because Dominion wants one. Those are the only reasons. These pipelines do not help any Virginians in terms of economic benefit, in terms of health, in terms of providing energy…We do not need and will not, even if we did need it, the energy produced by the fracked gas slated to go through these pipelines.

David Pratt: We have to keep in mind how politics and money works. Dominion Energy doesn’t necessarily make as much money through solar panels…so that they don’t have the incentive to push renewables, because it makes less money for them. Then they have billions of dollars to spend in the political process right to mislead our representatives…a lot of them are good folks…[need to] get the money out of our politics.

Emily Satterwhite: Get the money out of the politics, and as you’re saying, make sure our elected representatives are well informed, not misinformed because of the influence of money.

David Pratt: I can see coming out of this conversation that we’ve got to work on access. We cannot be, like some of these good women here, on the curb with signs and doing die-ins to get the  attention of our representatives. They need to invite them in for coffee in  their office and then it lessens the need to be on the street.

Emily Satterwhite: I would love to see our candidates and elected representatives come down and let us show them what kind of job Mountain Valley Pipeline contractors are doing, the way they’re destroying Virginia...And if anyone wants to come out, Appalachian Pipelines can help them take a tour of the counties and see the destruction that’s happening. And then they can lean on their their delegates and Senators themselves, that they have seen it firsthand, it’s not right. Back to your moral compass point; this is an injustice that Virginians are allowing to happen to Virginians.