Note: If you have not already, please read the Summer 2017 Pipeline Fighter installment as part of an ongoing series tracking Virginia’s pipeline resistance movement exclusively on the CCAN Blog Page.
On September 13 and 14, Virginians from across the Commonwealth made environmental movement history in the state. For two consecutive days of action, the ever-growing coalition in opposition to the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines gathered at the same time at each of the Commonwealth’s seven Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) offices, spanning every corner of Virginia.
The participants, spanning across the entirety of the Commonwealth, included faith leaders from diverse traditions, landowners, military veterans, Appalachian trail enthusiasts, climate refugees, students, and environmentalists. These groups came together in a never-before seen level of statewide coordination with one unified message: Governor McAuliffe’s DEQ must keep its original promise to the public and conduct site-specific permitting for each of the waterways crossed by these two massive fracked-gas pipelines.
This would follow the precedent set by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s use of section 401 of the Clean Water Act to to stop the dangerous Constitution pipeline in 2014, a decision upheld by a Federal Appeals Court in August.
At noon on Wednesday, September 13, hundreds of faith and spiritual elders gathered at every single DEQ office in Virginia: Richmond, Abingdon, Woodbridge, Glen Allen, Roanoke, Virginia Beach, and Harrisonburg, where they gathered in an interfaith prayer service. In Roanoke, congregants joined in song, in Richmond participants witnessed a traditional African water libation, to highlight the central role of water, and in Virginia Beach climate refugees fleeing Hurricane Irma in Florida were honored quests in the prayer ceremony. Each ceremony included a moment of silence for those devastated by both Hurricane Harvey and Irma, both of which made landfall in the USA in the weeks and days leading up to the protest.
On September 14 at noon, participants once again gathered at all seven DEQ offices — this time with a different tone. Each location featured a press conference and a rally, where community leaders, landowners, scientists, and doctors called upon the Governor and the DEQ to do their jobs and protect Virginia’s waterways and most vulnerable communities from the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.
Representatives from each location then delivered a letter to a DEQ agency representative, detailing the specific regional concerns they had with fracked-gas infrastructure projects.
At the DEQ Central Headquarters in Richmond, nineteen people linked hands in front of the main entrance of the door, supported by the cheers and chants of dozens of supporters, as they refused to leave until the pipelines were stopped. The “sit-in” caused the headquarters to functionally be on lockdown for over an hour and half until the activists were all arrested and issued court summons’ on the spot.
It’s clear that our protests made a real difference. In the days that followed these actions, both North Carolina and West Virginia announced significant setbacks in the permitting process of these pipelines.
Yet inexplicably, the Virginia DEQ has since doubled-down on its proposed timeline — with permits potentially being issued as early as November.
Now, more than ever, we need to show the Governor and the DEQ that all Virginians of conscience stand as an unwavering united front against these pipelines that would wreak havoc on our water, climate, and most vulnerable communities.