by Mara E. Robbins
On May 18, a delegation of Appalachian organizers, activists and directly affected residents from Southwest Virginia gathered in Leesburg to offer Mark Herring an intimate view of our strength of community and the resilience within our resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) LLC. Herring ignored the invitation to attend. In response, he delivered a deliberately misleading, skillfully condescending message through a spokesperson. Herring seems to believe that we do not know that he advises the very regulators referred to in his statement.
Anyone who is paying attention knows that we must take immediate, drastic action to address the climate crisis. This is in part why it is especially insulting when our decision makers exhibit not only cowardice but also shirk responsibility when presenting information about the steps being taken to pursue climate justice for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Northam administration is wearing fracked-gas pipeline blinders.
For example, Herring’s spokesman Michael 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,.” Perhaps he did not know, given that he was speaking FOR Herring who chose not to speak for himself, that those very agencies and regulatory boards that are mentioned obey the legal instructions offered by the office of the Attorney General. If this is NOT the case, one must assume that the very nature of the statement was designed to mislead and misinform a public who may not be as educated about the process as those who are actually facing the destructive acts being committed by the MVP LLC.
On the same day, May 18, in a pathetic effort to redeem Virginia in the face of this administration’s failure to challenge the corruption of the pipeline proposals, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler published a commentary that reflects Governor Northam’s capitulation to fossil fuel petro-colonization by corporations. It is a desperate attempt to turn the public’s gaze towards Northam in a direction of false respect after Northam has done NOTHING for people in rural Virginia who have been abandoned by the decision makers whose job is to protect us. Instead? We have been forced to defend our own rights, lives, land and water for five years.
MVP perpetuates a stereotype of rural Appalachia by having used a statistical analysis of income and education level as they plotted their route, a common tactic for petro-colonizers who think that by targeting the most vulnerable populations they will be more likely to be able to get away with blatant environmental injustices on “disposable” people in “sacrifice zones.”
When we use the term “Orwellian” in reference to the kind of doublespeak we continue to hear from decision makers such as Herring and Strickler, this is the kind of thing we mean: “Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.” (George Orwell, 1984)
We need Attorney General Herring and Secretary Strickler to know that the Appalachian people have common sense in droves. We will not be greenwashed into submission by inadequate attempts to mitigate a crisis of such epic proportions. It requires triage. The very first thing that needs to happen is to stop the bleeding. Building fracked gas pipelines while asserting lackluster leadership on climate reality is like cutting off a limb while applying band-aids to stab wounds. Adding the kinds of insults we have received this week to the injuries already incurred places our decision makers squarely in the realm of perpetrators of violence against the American people. So who do we turn to for help, when our regulators and government officials are legitimizing acts of violence by failing to prevent them?
If the “Attorney General’s job is to enforce the terms of permits and put an end to violations when they are found,” his “aggressive, wide-ranging lawsuit against the company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline” is meaningless without a stop-work order. He knows this. His game of hot-potato with regulators that HIS OFFICE ADVISES is just that–a game. And he is playing games with people’s lives. We are rural, not stupid, Mark. And if you thought you could appease us with your toothless lawsuit, you gravely underestimated our ability to pay attention to the convoluted system designed for us to fail. We will not fail, though. Because we see through the blinders you try to apply to this atrocity and we have proven that we will stop this project from harming our communities through every means necessary: our own experts, our own documenting of violations, and even non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. We will not back down and we are not going away. We will win.
If Secretary Strickler wishes to actually demonstrate that this “administration is protecting the environment,” he needs to insist upon a stop work order for the MVP immediately. He knows this. Herring knows this. Northam knows this. They must all take action to halt the abuse that is currently being committed by the MVP. They must stop the bleeding.
Anything less is beyond a failure. It is a tacit declaration of environmental war against the people in a time in which all of our resources should be allocated to surviving the climate crisis. We cannot allow them to continue to greenwash–or entirely ignore– these pipeline proposals by focusing on an uncertain future when stopping work on the MVP is the most substantive way to staunch the flow of our ongoing addiction to fossil fuel and its blood money. Virginia’s politicians, regulators and legal advisers cannot greenwash the blame from their complicit hands. Until they cease to disparage the intelligence of the Appalachian people who are fighting for their lives and choose to learn basic first aid, we will continue to demonstrate:
If you will not protect Virginia, we the people will.