Conservation groups applaud court’s suspension of Mountain Valley Pipeline construction

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today sided with conservation groups and issued an immediate stay of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s stream and wetland crossing permits in southern West Virginia and Virginia. The groups, noting the company’s stated rush to resume construction and the serious environmental harms likely to result, had asked the court for the stay while it considered the merits of their challenge of the water-crossing permits issued by the Corps of Engineers.

The eight groups, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, filed a challenge of the Corps’ reissuance on September 25 of two “Nationwide Permit 12” approvals that would allow MVP, LLC to trench through some 1,000 streams, rivers, wetlands and other water bodies in the two states. The 4th Circuit had rejected the Corps’ first round of permit approvals in 2018.

As noted in the groups’ filings, Mountain Valley Pipeline’s operator recently told its investors that it intends to blast and trench through “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

The court had issued an emergency stay October 16; today’s stay remains in effect until it rules on the groups’ petition to overturn the Corps’ water permits for the MVP project.

The groups filing the challenge include Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Wild Virginia.

Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager, Appalachian Voices:
“Communities along the pipeline route have been on edge these past several weeks as the company has moved in heavy equipment and started doing work, so we’re very glad the court pressed pause on this permit while the water-crossing issues are reviewed further.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director, Wild Virginia
“Once again, the court has shown that it sees the dire threat this dangerous and damaging project poses to our precious waters and vulnerable communities. Convincing a court to stay an agency decision requires plaintiffs to convince the judges that they have a good chance to prove their case after full review. Now, we look forward to doing just that — to show conclusively that the Corps of Engineers abdicated its duty to protect us and our resources.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network:
“The companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline have proven countless times that they are unfit to build this pipeline safely, with hundreds of violations and thousands of dollars in fines already. They’ve done nothing to prove that future construction won’t result in the same. We applaud the court for standing on the right side of history and issuing this stay.”

Joan Walker, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign:
“The MVP has already doubled its timeline and budget, and it’s not even close to being finished. If they were smart, they would quit throwing good money after bad and walk away from this fracked gas disaster like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy did with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity:
“This decision will help ensure the pipeline doesn’t keep posing catastrophic threats to waterways that people and imperiled species depend on to survive. Despite the project’s clear failure to comply with the law, Mountain Valley keeps pushing this climate-killing menace. We’ll continue working to ensure this destructive pipeline doesn’t poison waters and threaten communities along its route.”

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CONTACT: Cat McCue, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org
Denise Robbins, 240-630-1889, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org

Environmental Groups File Federal Lawsuit Over Air Pollution from Industrial Flares

Allies Sue EPA Over Failure to Update Inadequate, Decades-Old Standards for Controlling Toxic Emissions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, October 29, 2020

Washington, D.C. – A coalition of ten environmental organizations today sued the Trump Administration’s EPA over its failure reduce toxic air pollution from industrial flares at petrochemical plants, gas processing facilities, municipal solid waste landfills, and other large industrial sites.

Across the country, thousands of industrial flares burn excess waste gases and release smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous pollutants (such as carcinogenic benzene), and other pollutants that threaten the health of people living downwind, which often include communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods.

EPA has not updated two sets of air pollution control standards for industrial flares in decades—34 years and 26 years, respectively—even though the federal Clean Air Act requires the agency to review them at least once every eight years to make sure they adequately protect the public and incorporate improvements in technology.

“It’s been far too long since EPA updated these industrial flare standards, and EPA is well aware of the problem,” said Adam Kron, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).  “Time and time again over the past decade, EPA has admitted that flares operating under these outdated standards can release many times more toxic air pollutants into local communities than estimated.  This can cause serious harm to public health.”

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, said: “There is no excuse for continuing to permit antiquated pollution-controlling technology in new industrial facilities. EPA has a responsibility to protect our air and our health, and it cannot do so while sleeping at the wheel.”

The organizations that filed the lawsuit –– following notices of intent to sue EPA sent on June 11 and August 17, 2020 – are EIP, Clean Air Council, Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environment Texas, Hoosier Environmental Council, PennEnvironment, and Texas Campaign for the Environment. 

Industrial facilities, like chemical manufacturers and natural gas processing plants, use flares as pollution control devices to burn and destroy dangerous organic compounds like benzene in waste gases. However, the flares are only effective as pollution control devices if they are operated correctly.  In a recent rulemaking, EPA estimated that one industry sector’s flares were operating at 90.4-percent efficiency rather than the expected 98 percent, resulting in the flares releasing almost five times the pollution.

For example, operators inject steam into flares to keep them from smoking, which releases soot or fine particle pollution. But they often add far more steam than is needed.  EPA and industry studies have shown that flares that are over-steamed do not burn well, releasing many times more toxic and smog-forming compounds that should have been destroyed during the combustion process.   Additionally, the current standards let operators average their measurements over long, three-hour periods rather than a shorter time, allowing for spikes that depart from proper operation. 

The industrial flares subject to the outdated standards that are the focus of today’s lawsuit include flares at petrochemical facilities, gasoline terminals, natural gas processing plants, compressor stations, solid waste landfills, and other large industrial sites.  These do not include flares at petroleum refineries, for which EPA updated standards in 2015, or flares at oil and gas wells, which have unique standards.

Using outdated standards, industrial flares can release large amounts of air pollution at the local level. For example. For example, in Texas’s Permian Basin, flares from a gas processing plant owned by Oxy USA LLC’s in Gaines County, reported emissions of 136 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 2017, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

Quotes from Environmental Organizations:

Environment Texas: “In our Clean Air Act lawsuit against ExxonMobil, an expert on industrial flares testified at trial that illegal flaring emissions from the company’s Baytown petrochemical complex were probably three to four times higher than the amounts ExxonMobil reported — and that testimony went completely unrebutted,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas.  “These hidden impacts on surrounding communities are significant, as the reported violations alone already totaled 10 million pounds of harmful chemicals.”

PennEnvironment: “While many people may look back fondly and love the 80s, we’d all agree that technology and the things we know about air pollution have dramatically improved over the past three decades,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “Health based standards from the 80s are in no way acceptable for protecting public health, our communities and our environment today.”  

Chesapeake Climate Action Network: “For too long, fossil fuel companies have been allowed to emit dangerous levels of pollution at industrial facilities that are all too often located in minority communities,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Virtually unchecked industrial flaring at these facilities harms the climate, health, and justice, and the EPA must fix its illegally outdated rules as soon as possible.”

Hoosier Environmental Council:  “With a ranking of 43rd in air quality, 41st in health outcomes, and 19th in COVID-19 deaths per capita, there is a great urgency in Indiana to strengthen air quality protections to reduce harm to an already vulnerable population,” said Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. “We urge the EPA to revise the badly out-of-date flare standards; revisions would improve air quality in at least five of six regions of Indiana.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment:  “Industrial flares light up the skies with toxic pollution near the homes, schools and workplaces of many Texans,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “People rightly fear for the health of their families and neighbors, particularly overburdened communities of color,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Earthworks: “The EPA has neglected to properly review the harmful effects of flaring on the health of nearby residents for decades,” said Aaron Mintzes, Senior Policy Counsel for Earthworks. “Optical gas images (OGI) documented in the field show improperly combusing flares and reveal the urgent need for the EPA review this litigation seeks.”

For a copy of the lawsuit, click here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is an 18-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health.

Clean Air Council is a member-supported environmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment.

Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit advocacy organization working to reduce the public health impacts of air pollution and advance environmental justice.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Earthworks is a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of fossil fuels and striving for a just, equitable, and fair transition to clean energy.

Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups that work for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.

Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water, and open space.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is Indiana’s largest environmental public policy organization, working to address environmental justice, protect land and water, and advance a sustainable economy.

PennEnvironment is a statewide, citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group working for clean air, clean water, tackling climate change and preserving Pennsylvania’s incredible outdoor places.

Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and mobilizing Texans to protect the quality of their lives, their health, their communities, and the environment. 

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Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

Justin Wasser, Earthworks, (202) 753-7016 or jwasser@earthworks.org

New Bombshell Analysis Shows Environmental Justice Impacts of Maryland Eastern Shore Pipeline Project

Activists Call on Board of Public Works to Reject Eastern Shore Pipeline Ahead of Key Decision

Board of Public Works expected to issue or reject key permit in early November 

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Top progressive environmental and justice advocates held a telepress conference today, calling on Governor Hogan and the Board of Public Works to reject the proposed Eastern Shore Pipeline project. The BPW is expected to issue a decision on a key permit for the project in early November. 

Activists also released a new spatial analysis, conducted by GIS expert Stephen Metts, showing that the project runs through primarily majority-minority and low-income communities. The topline finding is that there is a predominance of Environmental Justice (EJ)-eligible census block groups up and down the two proposed projects.  In fact, there are only four of 40 one-mile study area tracts that are not EJ-eligible. There is particularly high risk at the head of the Del-Mar project in the city of Salisbury, which is where the developers are planning to site a “renewable natural gas facility” — using waste from livestock, which is associated with a host of additional health threats. 

READ THE FULL ANALYSIS HERE

Email denise@chesapeakeclimate.org to request a recording of the press conference.

The pipeline is already under construction in Delaware to carry gas from that state into Maryland. The seven miles of pipeline proposed for Maryland would supply concentrated animal feeding operations, businesses, and residential areas. The two “anchor” customers for gas delivery are the Eastern Correctional Institute (ECI) and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in Somerset County. If built, the Del-Mar pipeline would trigger the second pipeline proposed by Chesapeake Utilities connecting the prison to the university. The installation of the Del-Mar pipeline will impact 1,239 square feet of streams and more than 30,000 square feet of wetlands and wetland buffers. It is anticipated to come online in late 2021. 

“Water is essential to human life all over the world, but here in Maryland, it’s an especially important part of our culture and economy,” said Susan Olsen, chair of the Sierra Club’s Lower Eastern Shore Group. “At a time when clean, renewable energy is affordable and abundant, we shouldn’t be building dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines. Our state should reject the Eastern Shore fracked gas pipelines — the health of Maryland’s water, economy, and people depends on it.”

The Board of Public Works is expected to decide on the wetlands permit for the Del-Mar pipeline portion in early November, after Governor Hogan’s Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recommended approval earlier this month. MDE is still reviewing the impacts the Chesapeake Utilities Project will have on the region’s wetlands and a separate decision on that portion is expected in early 2021.

“Putting in this pipeline will damage my campus community and the local community because it is not sustainable,” said Jailynn Britt, student at University of Maryland Eastern Shore and UMES delegate for the MaryPIRG’s climate justice group. “It will create long-lasting problems that affect the water and the air, which in the long run, hurts the people in this already impoverished community. It also will hurt an already small HBCU, which needs more help, not more problems.”

On the call, activists explained how the Hogan Administration has put its thumb on the scale for this project. While studies have shown that there are cheaper, viable alternatives to gas, including electrification and geothermal energy, the State of Maryland didn’t consider any of these options. Instead, it only requested applications for a gas pipeline to supply gas to two state-run facilities. And every contract that Maryland Environmental Services has awarded since the passage of the fracking ban has unduly prioritized fracked gas. Key excerpts from each of the four contracts awarded are linked here.

“We know that the Eastern Shore, which is essentially surrounded by water, is ground zero for climate change in Maryland,” said Anthony Field, Maryland Grassroots Coordinator at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We also know that the expansion of dangerous gas infrastructure like this is a major step in the wrong direction. Importing fracked gas runs counter to MD’s commitment to climate action.”

This also comes on the heels of a new white paper released by CCAN, the Sierra Club, and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, showing that these fracked-gas pipelines would be an economic boondoggle. The economics of gas are faltering, with hundreds of gas companies expected to declare bankruptcy by the end of next year. These bankruptcies, combined with Maryland’s commitment to tackling climate change through electrification of buildings, raises concerns that investing in new gas infrastructure will lock ratepayers into paying for decades for a product that will not be viable for that long. 

“It is economically foolish to build the very expensive polluting infrastructure of gas pipelines and equipment, which is already outpriced by highly competitive and non-polluting solar and wind,” said John Groutt of the Wicomico Environmental Trust. “The pipelines will become worthless stranded assets within a very few years, leaving Maryland taxpayers to continue paying for it for years to come.” 

The fracked-gas industry is faltering. Companies behind the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancelled the project due to ballooning costs and legal uncertainties. And the Dakota Access pipeline was ordered to shut down for an environmental review.  Meanwhile, in late June, the fracking giant Chesapeake Energy filed for bankruptcy. These setbacks for the industry demonstrate that fracking is a risky investment, for the climate, the environment, and the economy.

These two pipelines are part of the Hogan Administration’s plans to spend $103 million massively increasing fracked-gas pipelines and infrastructure in the state. This includes $30.3 million administered by the Maryland Energy Administration’s (MEA) new Maryland Gas Expansion Fund “for the expansion of natural gas infrastructure.” The remaining $70 million is recoverable from MD ratepayers. Read more about it here.

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

FERC Grants Mountain Valley Pipeline Permit Despite Continued Doubts It Will Be Completed

Controversial Fracked Gas Pipeline Still Lacks Essential Authorizations

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP) permission to resume construction, even though the beleaguered fracked gas project still lacks some necessary authorizations. Industry watchers are growing increasingly skeptical of MVP’s future after a similar fracked gas pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was cancelled as a result of similar permitting and legal challenges. Over a dozen environmental advocacy organizations have opposed MVP’s request.

Planned to run over 300 miles through West Virginia and Virginia, state inspectors have already identified hundreds of violations of commonsense water protections, and MVP has paid millions of dollars in penalties. There are also questions about whether MVP is accurately reporting how much of the project has been completed, with one analysis showing it is only 51% finished. At this time the project is at least $2 billion over budget, two years behind schedule, and developers admit they need two more years to complete the project. 

In response, Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Senior Campaign Representative Joan Walker released the following statement:

“MVP has violated commonsense water protections hundreds of times and allowing them to resume construction just means putting more communities at risk for an unnecessary pipeline that may never even be built. FERC is supposed to regulate these fracked gas projects, not roll over for them.”

Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL said:

“MVP construction crews have yet to traverse the most intense and well known geohazards —steep, in some places, nearly vertical slopes, slip prone soils, karst, and earthquakes— in the height of a global pandemic, during hurricane season —these multiple geohazards make today’s FERC/MVP plan to resume construction maniacal, wholly destructive to land, forest, water and living beings. With such challenges ahead, MVP’s promises to complete by any time in 2021 simply fly in the face of fact. People and places in the path of MVP are not disposable—we won’t be sacrificed for MVP investment returns.” 

Russell Chisholm, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Co-chair said:

“FERC’s dangerous decision is an attempt to rescue MVP from their own mismanagement despite years of delays and documented failures. FERC favors energy policy by force, rewards negligence over the objections of thousands, ignores the evidence of harm to our communities, and shamefully denies climate realities. To do this as the COVID-19 crisis spreads through rural Virginia and West Virginia puts MVP and FERC’s disregard for our safety on full display.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia said:

“This is another in a long list of irresponsible decisions by FERC. In allowing construction to proceed while MVP still lacks required permits, the Commission is enabling the corporation’s attempt to rush ahead, heedless of the harm already done and that which is sure to follow if this decision stands. The MVP is still not a done deal and FERC’s collusion with the frackers won’t make it so.”

Jessica Sims, Virginia Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices said:

“It’s clear that MVP is pulling out all the stops to rush this project through, and FERC is letting them get away with it. The agency ignored the 43,000 people who vigorously opposed this project moving forward, and disregarded the hundreds of water quality violations racked up so far. This pipeline was not needed when it was proposed, and is even less needed now. We will continue fighting to stop it.” 

Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: 

“FERC’s decision is unconscionable. Coronavirus is still raging in Virginia and now FERC is allowing fracked-gas companies to push through another health hazard. Tens of thousands of Virginians oppose this pipeline because they know we don’t need it. We will keep fighting it until we win.” 

Jared Margolis, Senior Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:

“FERC is clearly not interested in protecting the public or ensuring that massive fossil fuel pipelines like MVP actually comply with the law. This project is a travesty that should never have been approved, and now it is being allowed to proceed even after devastating environmental harm from construction activities. We will continue to fight this horrible project to protect the people, wildlife and waterways in its path.”

CONTACT: Doug Jackson, 202.495.3045 or doug.jackson@sierraclub.org

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Meet a CCANer: Elle de la Cancela

Tell me a little bit about yourself!

I’m a New Yorker through and through! I grew up in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, before moving out in the northern suburbs of NYC where I finished high school. I went to college at the University of Chicago, graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Human Rights. I wrote my thesis on ecofeminism and cowboys, so ask me about ~the West~.

I was pretty burnt out on organizing post-grad, and realized that, while I was taught how to “think,” I didn’t know how to “do” anything. So I worked for federal land agencies building trails and fighting fires from Maine to California, lucky enough to be outside every day. Right before coming to CCAN, I was out in Des Moines, Iowa doing some electoral organizing for Bernie.  

What woke you up to the climate crisis?

I had always been an outdoorsy girl growing up, finding any excuse to hike, backpack, ski, cycle, or swim, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I realized the need for climate action now. I took an environmental politics class and read Naomi Klein for the first time, which moved me to join our divestment from fossil fuels campaign on campus. 

What impacts of climate change currently hit home to you? 

Right now, the increasing intensity and frequency of wildfires. I was on an engine for only a season out in California, but my old crewmates are out on the largest recorded burns in California history as I type. But some of us are feeling the heat here in Richmond too. Focusing on EJ has always been my MO and there are definitely fires of our own to fight here in Virginia. I’m ready to dig into my new home to build a more equitable world!

What brought you to CCAN? 

I have been lucky enough to travel all over the country doing work that felt important to me. CCAN is no exception. In the height of COVID-19, I knew that I needed to come back to the East Coast and continue to fight for a liveable future. We cannot wait on climate change, and CCAN has allowed me to act immediately and focus my efforts on those who are most impacted. 

What has inspired you most working with CCAN?

While I have received so many warm welcomes and great advice as I’ve started, I was truly inspired by the resistance fighters along the MVP route. Not to plug myself here, but I went into much more detail in my blog post.

What have you contributed to bringing about a clean energy revolution that you are most proud of?

Although my entry into climate organizing was divestment, I didn’t stick with that campaign too long. Quickly after joining then-UCAN (UChicago Climate Action Network), I started another campaign on campus to aid the Southeast Side’s Coalition to Ban Petcoke. This group of pro-bono lawyers, artists, activists, and community members fiercely fought the open storage of toxic particulate waste that was held in Koch brothers owned terminals and shipped in from the nearby BP oil refinery. The work that those amazing folks put in eventually garnered a city-wide ban on open storage of petcoke. I am incredibly grateful to have learned from them and the folks at the People’s Lobby.

What do you hope to see happen in terms of climate in the next year?

My bare minimum hope is a president that believes that climate change exists. GO VOTE!!

What do you like to do when you’re not working on climate change?

I’m a big nerd, so most of the time I’m reading fiction. I’m hyped for the post-rona world, whenever that may be, where I can join a band (playing guitar) and a team (playing rugby)! Until then, I’ll be rollerblading the Capital Trail and hiking in Shenandoah. 

Who would you high five?

Tough one! Have to go with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Gotta support a fellow socialist boricua from the Bronx!

White Paper: Why the Eastern Shore Pipelines are a Bad Investment for Maryland

The Eastern Shore of Maryland–ground zero for sea-level rise caused by global warming–is facing two proposed gas pipelines. We are  concerned that expanding gas infrastructure to the area is an expensive, short-sighted option for the region. While studies have shown that there are cheaper, viable alternatives to gas, including electrification and geothermal energy, the State of Maryland didn’t consider any of these options. Instead, it only requested applications for a gas pipeline to supply gas to two state-run facilities.

The economics of gas are faltering, with hundreds of gas companies expected to declare bankruptcy by the end of next year. These bankruptcies, combined with Maryland’s commitment to tackling climate change through electrification of buildings, raises concerns that investing in new gas infrastructure will lock ratepayers into paying for decades for a product that will not be viable for that long. 

This new white paper, prepared by CCAN with help from our partners at the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, outlines our concerns about the economics of these pipeline projects, details how Maryland has cheaper, cleaner options, and also debunks the promise of “renewable” natural gas.

Through a Newcomer’s Eyes: Grounding Myself in People and Place Along the Mountain Valley Pipeline Route

By Elle de la Cancela

Maury called me throughout the whole drive over.

It was welcomed, as I trekked my way through the mountains and into Monroe County, West Virginia. He told me where to stop for cheap gas, which snacks I should grab, and the turns I would take down gravel roads to get to Sweet Springs. I knew nothing of the area. I had only just moved from New York to Richmond three weeks earlier — my car was still heavy from the last of my things. 

I was there to tour the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Told that my new position with CCAN would include fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I knew I had to get a handle on the project and get in touch with the local resistance fighters. I had spent the week prior preparing myself, planning the logistics and buying supplies. But I was overwhelmed with what I actually witnessed. The contrast between the kind, caring folks I met and the sheer negligence of a company hell-bent on delivering unneeded fracked gas through farms, backyards, and public land was dizzying.

 

Maury Johnson in front of the right-of-way by his property

I arrived at Sweet Springs Resort, currently non-functioning but with a deep history. Maury Johnson acted as my tour guide these first few days. An expert in the area, he has filed over 180 violations (of sediment and erosion control, incorrect storage, among others) caused by the pipeline he has personally identified along the route. He explained that Sweet Springs Resort, named for the hot springs nearby, was a hotel for a period of time and the current property owner planned to restore it. When I inquired further into the past, he said that this spring originally belonged to native peoples (mostly likely historical Eastern Sioux lands of the Yesa Confederacy, but he never specified), and that there had been a massacre to acquire the land. This was an orienting way to start my trip: the aggressive reminder that we are all on stolen land. As I interacted with those whose properties were taken through eminent domain to build the pipeline, I remembered the long history of abuse and land theft. 

Before we began our destruction tour, Maury pointed out three different water bottling plants and a few other springs resorts, touting that Peters Mountain has some of the best water in the world. Water is not just an attraction, but a source of manufacturing and a major economic driver. The pipeline’s presence threatens that. We first must consider the runoff, erosion and sediment deposited in this karst zone (meaning that there are underwater rivers and caves throughout the region) from construction alone. And keep in mind that with every project there is a possibility of leakage, which would poison the water in the whole region. This is not just folks’ drinking water and health we’re talking about (which should be reason enough to halt the project), but their livelihoods. 

We drove in our separate SUVs, communicating by walkie talkie because of COVID concerns and its rising rates in the county. Maury stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture of a box turtle (they’re doing a study, he informed me) and safely delivered it to the other side. I can think of no better way to describe the folks in this fight — attentive and driven to preserve life. As we pulled up to the right-of-way at Pence Springs, my heart sunk. Lush green hills were stripped down to a 125-foot clearing. Along the edges of the stream were splitweed and ironweed, yellows and purples dotting the water before it opened up to a massive treeless zone. Here the pipe had already been put in the ground. It hasn’t held any gas and never will, if we have anything to do with it.

Other areas I came across were not nearly as “finished.” While MVP claims that they are 92% done, I cannot say I saw even half of that during my time. At only a few locations did I see the yellow topped markers indicating that the pipe was in the ground. Most of the route was vast dead zones. In the most “completed” areas, pipe was welded and staged with no trench to be seen. In other areas, the pipe wasn’t even staged — segmented and piled, left out to bake in the sun for years since they were placed there. These pipes and their coating aren’t supposed to sit out for more than one year, but I saw some dated 2017. 

Pipe dated 2017

In other areas, it seemed utterly uncleared. Because of the stop work orders in place (status uncertain due to the recent biological opinion), several sections in Giles County had time to regrow for the past two years. Nature is resilient; the ecosystem in these areas will restore itself. As long as we stop gas from ever entering these pipes, there is a chance to bring these areas back.

During my time on the route, I was able to visit the Yellow Finch Tree Sit as they marked their two-year anniversary. The right-of-way here looked particularly rotten —  horrible, steep, brown, with big white tarps over it — a band-aid to control MVP’s numerous erosion violations. It looked like a black diamond ski slope with its steep drop-offs, but far wider than any expert run would be. I hiked up a logging road, imagining what a terrible sight it must have been for those at camp as thousands of trees like the ones they were sitting in were trucked out. With a wave of death snaking through the hills in one direction, the other view held a hand-felled cut, leading right up to a remaining stand of trees on the route. From this height, I could see a little bit of white amidst the canopy — a poster draped over one of the sits. As gut-wrenching as it was to see all of that barren land, this little section imbued some much-needed hope in me. I hiked down to get a look at the sits from below. 

There were three platforms about fifty feet up in the trees. They had buckets and pulley systems, banners and tarps. Beneath them were big umbrella-like barriers to prevent anyone from climbing up. MVP had only sent one surveyor who had climbed once – to spike a tree, killing it, where a sitter’s platform was staged. These folks are willing to put their bodies on the line and break the law for what they know is right. It reminded me of other fights against injustice, and the presumed “illegality” of human bodies when they are in certain spaces. Social justice and environmental justice are joined in so many ways — like how climate refugees will only increase with extreme weather

Anniversary day was a weird one – celebratory for the staying power of the Yellow Finch tree-sitters — but deeply tired. Yellow Finch hasn’t had many visitors other than stalwart suppliers due to COVID-19, but last weekend about ten of us visitors sat apart from each other in the dirt, trying to make the most of it. Folks walked around drinking beer and eating cakes with antifascist slogans. While morale was high that day, there was the explicit hope that we all wouldn’t be there next year. These tree-sitters want to go home, to not have to face another winter out here in the cold. In full organizer mode, I asked what I could do to help – did they need material resources, what sorts of media should I send their way, etc. At one point, I received a blank stare: “Just stop the pipeline.” It was a sobering moment. The tree sits are a stalling method for the tedious legal, policy, and media work – for those of us who are down here safely on land to do our jobs and stop this pipeline from ever being completed. We all have our place in this fight; we too have a vital part to play.

My trip was coming to a close around Labor Day, which I spent with Russell Chisholm, the leader of a coalition of local “preserve” groups called POWHR. I drove into the Newport Village Green to meet him, welcomed by a sign stating “You are now entering the blast zone.” Unlike my experiences with Maury, we didn’t visit the private landowners affected, but instead travelled along the Forest Service land that had been permitted for construction. The thought of this alone is unsettling — a forest that is supposed to serve the public good and is highly frequented by campers is now zoned to have a massive 42-in pipeline running through it. Forty-two inches is a huge diameter: I stood next to these wide tunnels, and realized I could easily crawl inside.

We approached the right-of-way through the Jefferson National Forest, a steep path that included several hard right angles. As we pulled in, we saw that posted up on a tree were notices that this area — of public land — was off-limits due to construction. To circumvent our inability to walk the site, Russell brought out a drone — a very helpful tool in catching when and where construction begins again. That day it showed me a longer stretch than I could imagine — a trail of brown bobbing over ridges through the otherwise verdant forest. The aerial view from the drone showed me the magnitude of this project — of how much has gone to waste when the MVP is cancelled like the long-fought Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

There are countless other horror stories I could share: of retirement dream homes built from scratch t on old family property that was completely bisected by the pipeline; of flower beds outside kitchen windows torn up for an easement less than 100 feet away; of a sinkhole caused by boring into CARST zones near a couple’s chicken coops; of an organic farm that will disappear if the pipe is filled with gas. I have the happier stories, as well: of posters, walls and cars painted in anti-pipeline slogans; the jokes and onion rings among the trees; the fresh country eggs that were gifted to me for breakfast; the folks that opened their homes and their hearts to me as I slept in their backyards. 

I drove the three hours back to Richmond meditating on what I had seen. Resolved and directed, I am acutely aware of my place in the fight. You too have a place. 

The fight’s not over. September 11 is the FINAL DAY to submit comments to FERC to oppose the extension to the MVP. The deadline to file a comment is 5pm this evening. You can sign the CCAN public comment here or file a personal comment of your own through FERC with this toolkit

Please also donate to Appalachians Against Pipelines in support of the Yellow Finch Tree Sit, POWHR or CCAN. We will always be outspent by MVP — only we can fund our collective liberation.  

45,000+ Tell Dominion Energy: Fire Tom Farrell Immediately

Environmental advocates deliver massive nationwide petition to Dominion leadership, shareholders

RICHMOND, VA — In the wake of the high-profile cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, environmental organizations announced that more than 45,000 people signed a petition calling on Dominion Energy to fire Tom Farrell from the company. 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PETITION IN FULL

“Typically, when a CEO wastes billions of dollars of customers’ money, leads the company in an entirely wrong direction for years upon years, lets down Wall Street and shareholders, that person is let go,” Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated. “It’s long past time for Dominion’s board to give Tom Farrell a pink slip. It’s time to start a new era of truly responsible leadership in one of the country’s largest utilities.” 

Tom Farrell has served as CEO of this utility giant for more than a decade. He was the main cheerleader for the ACP when it was first proposed. He continued pushing for it even as a massive grassroots movement grew in opposition to it, drawing nationwide attention from the likes of former Vice President Al Gore, who called it a “reckless, racist ripoff.” The pipeline was held up for years through delays as permit after permit were thrown out for not holding up. Yet for years, under the leadership of Farrell, Dominion Energy claimed that the ACP was on track, that it would be a great boon for shareholders — which was its primary goal. Eventually, legal complications led to ballooning expenses which made clear that the financial argument didn’t hold up either. 

Dominion Energy recently announced that Farrell would step down as CEO and become Executive Chair of the Dominion Board of Directors. But the company’s new CEO will report to him, and Farrell will still have a heavy hand in planning Dominion’s future. Farrell himself said in response, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The petition states in part: “Farrell has proven himself to be an ill-equipped leader — a business model built on extraction, environmental injustice, and political corruption will not be tolerated.” It is supported by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 198 methods, Climate Hawks Vote, Corporate Accountability, Daily Kos, and Friends of the Earth Action. 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PETITION IN FULL

Contact: Denise Robbins, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-1889

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Another Maryland Coal Plant Suddenly Retires

GenOn Files to Deactivate Another MD Coal-Fired Power Plant in 2021

Sudden announcement underscores the need for economic transition of Maryland’s remaining coal plantThursday, August 13, 2020Contact: 

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD –  Earlier this week, GenOn Holdings filed for deactivation of their two coal-fired power units at the Chalk Point Generating Station. The filing formally initiates the retirement process and establishes the retirement date for the two units on June 1, 2021. The announcement comes as GenOn’s Dickerson coal plant prepares to retire today. Chalk Point is one of six large power plants in Maryland that entered 2020 still burning expensive, climate-polluting coal and facing the unviability of fossil fuels in Maryland’s clean energy future leaving workers with uncertainty.  

In 2019, Maryland’s six coal plants generated less than 10% of the electricity sold in the state but emitted over half of the climate-disrupting carbon dioxide from in-state power plants. The coal industry is in a precipitous decline in today’s energy market because outdated dirty fuels have been unable to compete with less costly and cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. The decline has been further accelerated by the urgent need to address toxic pollution, public health, and the existential threat of the climate crisis. 

Despite the Chalk Point announcement, and GenOn’s closure of the coal-burning units at the Dickerson plant this month, Marylanders in Charles County will still have to contend with serious pollution from the GenOn-owned Morgantown coal plant. The Morgantown coal-fired power plant has faced a sharp decline in use, but its operation still harms Maryland’s air and water. GenOn, the out-of-state operator of these coal plants, has a history of failing to comply with environmental regulations and fighting against clean water protections.

The speed of the decline of the coal industry underscores the need for the state to develop a plan to support impacted communities and workers. 

The Senior Campaign Representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign David Smedick released the following statement in response

“Today’s announcement is yet another indicator that the coal industry is quickly dwindling and being outcompeted by affordable clean renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The two coal units at Chalk Point have been operating and emitting toxic pollution for over 50 years using out-dated technology. Now, impacted workers and communities that have been subjected to the environmental and public health risks caused by these units have less than 11 months to prepare for this impact without robust full fossil fuel transition support programs in place, all during a global pandemic and economic crisis. 

“Maryland urgently needs a statewide, coordinated plan to manage the inevitable transition off of dirty coal to clean energy. We need our state elected officials to bring together front line community members, impacted workers, local advocates, and industry leaders to construct a plan that advances the state beyond coal while providing ample support to our most impacted workers and communities.”

Delegate Kumar Barve (D17), Chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, released the following statement:

“The closing of the Dickerson and Chalk Points coal-fired power units are the latest in a long market trend away from burning dirty coal and towards efficient clean energy.  While the decline of the industry is happening at a frenetic pace, some of these plants remain online and are still dumping heavy pollution in Maryland’s air. The time is now to pass legislation to break free of coal and incentivize cleaner resources while investing in creation of family supporting jobs in technologies like energy storage and grid upgrades.   ”

Willie Flowers, President, NAACP Maryland State Conference, released the following statement:

“The closing of Chalk Point demonstrates the collective power of a community united. Many voices, including those of the NAACP, and other activists, were unified in demanding “a better way” to deliver clean energy to the State of Maryland.  The NAACP Maryland State Conference, is working with industry and political leaders to take this monumental win to the next level. Our efforts to transition to renewable energy will continue as we launch our Maryland Solar Equity Initiative 2020. We hope Marylanders will support us as we partner with civic, corporate and the legislature to provide job training and placement, homeowner education and legislative guidance to spread the good word about renewable energy.  These plant closings validate our efforts and inspire us to continue doing what we do. ”  

Senator Brian Feldman (D15), Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released the following statement:

“Given the conversations I am part of with legislative leaders and energy policy makers from around the country and even internationally, the closures of Dickerson in my Senate district and now Chalk Point, were not surprising.  As Maryland transitions off of coal, it is our responsibility to lead a conversation among all stakeholders to develop a thoughtful transition plan for the sake of the workers, ratepayers, and vulnerable residents who suffer from adverse health effects caused by these facilities.”

Senator Chris West (D42), released the following statement:

“The declining economics of coal are undeniable and the market has shown we have cleaner and more efficient ways to produce energy. As a parent, I’m also eager to address our climate crisis. The General Assembly must show leadership and set a firm date to move off coal-fired electricity and establish a plan that takes care of hard-working Marylanders and provides certainty for workers, local government and ratepayers during  this unavoidable transition.”

Leah Kelly, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, released the following statement:

“The coal units at Chalk Point have been operating for over 50 years, discharging toxic pollutants into waterways and releasing greenhouse gases and health-harming pollutants into the air every year. This dinosaur technology is no longer competitive with cleaner energy sources. Maryland needs to move forward as quickly as possible with industries like offshore wind that can provide clean energy and good-paying jobs.”

Janet Gingold, Chair & Lily Fountain, Vice Chair of Sierra Club Prince Georges County Group, released a statement: 

“GenOn’s decision to deactivate the Chalk Point coal units emphasizes the need for the state to step up to provide support for displaced workers to transition to jobs in the clean energy economy. We are looking forward to the decreased levels of air and water pollution, acid rain, greenhouse gases, and global and local climate change, as well as decreased rates of asthma, heart and lung diseases from the closure of the Chalk Point Coal Units.” 

Anne Havemann, General Counsel with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, released the following statement: 

“The coal industry is collapsing, and Maryland needs to prepare for it. Laying off workers in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis is not the way forward. Instead, let’s chart a path towards clean, renewable energy that provides jobs for workers currently in the fossil fuel industry and elsewhere. With fossil fuels on the way out, and in the midst of an unprecedented economic recession caused by an international pandemic, Maryland should prioritize rebuilding with clean energy and climate solutions. Maryland needs a climate stimulus.”

Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, Director of Faithful Advocacy for Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), released the following statement:

“People of faith know that caring for our communities means transitioning away from coal as a power source. We see the closing of the Chalk Point coal units as essential for the health of our state, our climate, our neighbors, and ourselves. 

“But as people of faith, we care also for our neighbors who work at Chalk Point. We’ve called on our elected officials to provide funding for a just transition so that we could avoid this very situation—workers and their families given less than a year to plan for the loss of their livelihoods. Faithful Marylanders know that a clean energy economy is our future, and our communities are depending on our elected officials to chart the path forward.”

Chispa Maryland Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo, Released the following statement 

“Plant closures in Maryland will affect workers, communities and families, leaving them in especially precarious conditions during uncertain economic times and under a pandemic. The Chalk Point closing underscores the need for an equitable, enforceable transition plan for moving Maryland off coal and towards a clean energy economy that supports workers and communities.” 

Frederick Tutman, Riverkeeper at Patuxent Riverkeeper released the following statement:

“Residents in the Brandywine area and of course the Patuxent River have suffered enough from the persistent and egregious environmental problems  caused by this plant and its various coal related waste streams and other impacts for decades. The posture of this plant with its neighbors and the environment has generally reflected environmental indifference and injustice throughout its tenure. It’s high time for a change, and even one more day of coal power generation at Chalk Point is too much. But we’ll take this latest bid for an alternate fuel source as a long overdue step in the right direction.”

Contact: Pablo Willis, pablo.willis@sierraclub.org; Denise Robbins, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org

Photo at the top from a 2011 CCAN candlelight vigil against coal

“What Are You?” – How Struggles with Multiculturalism Have Informed My Activism

By Zamir Ticknor

“What Am I?”  

Mom and me celebrating Eid

I remember wearing my bright, aqua blue Panjabi with exquisite designs on the collars– that my family bought when I was in my home country of Bangladesh– at my high school’s international night this year. While I was munching on delightful roshroshogulla, a Bangladeshi dessert, I vividly remember a tall, poised, Indian man awkwardly yet confidently strolling towards me; he then blatantly stared at my Panjabi and my light skin. I recall him posing the following question: “Are you even Bangladeshi? You’re too white to be a true Bangladeshi.” His thoughts along with my lingering enigmas in regards to my culture led me to question my identity solely because I am lighter than most Bangladeshis- this was not an enjoyable feeling then and that still remains true today.

When discussing the racial, ethnic, and cultural identity of individuals, it is professedly dormant for people to assume that identity can be summed up in one word: Black, white, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, Bangladeshi, American, etc. The concept of identity is much more complex than that. In today’s world, people immigrate and move around quite often whether it’s because of economic hardship or political sovereignty; the world is not as sectioned off as it has been in the past. With advancements in technology, specifically in modes of transportation, the world has unquestionably become more accessible. With more diversity among inhabitants in certain areas, there will subsequently be a higher percentage of interracial relationships. So in future generations, there’ll be a higher percentage of multiracial individuals. According to the US Census Bureau in 2010, nine million Americans identify as two races or more, myself included. 

Reminders from Multicultural Youth  

The USA is a country where people from all over the globe come for better opportunities and seek to build a more fruitful life for themselves and their children. My mother did this to better her education from the developing country of Bangladesh. And as a biracial Bangladeshi-American, I would like to provide the reminders that this country is built on immigrants, refugees, asylees, international students, from every single corner of the world. Multicultural families create children with valid, multilayered identities, which are the future of race, and it is time that they are discussed in a serious, open-minded, and accepting manner.

My nanu and I on a rickshaw, a common mode of transportation in Bangladesh

Multiculturalist Stigmas  

Biracial or multicultural identity is something that is not discussed sufficiently. This is partially because people often aren’t properly informed on how to ask a sensitive question about cultural identity. For many multicultural people, we’re familiar with the “what are you” question. I am sure that this question, when asked, makes you feel dehumanized and objectified as if you lack a valid and worthy identity. Aside from the fact that there’s a huge distinction between asking questions out of curiosity versus ignorance, being different doesn’t give bystanders a non-expiring free pass to always ask any cultural/identity-related question that comes to mind. It is most definitely different depending on the situation and the person. I myself welcome questions the majority of the time, but others may not appreciate constant questions. The topic of racial, cultural, and ethnic identity can be a sensitive one, but it’s absolutely necessary to be well-educated on racial relations and identity issues as a person of an increasingly diverse world. 

So, let’s break the stigma. Let us spark dialogue about multicultural identity to our peers, our parents, and our society. Challenge your enigmas- question your culture in order to learn from it; this has led me to finally vocalize confidently that I am proud to be multicultural and biracial, and you should be proud of your identity. Without the tall, poised Indian man who posed a question to me, I believe that I would have never found my true self, and I would have never been able to undeniably write this message. Diverse cultural backgrounds are a gift, and though I may never wholly be a part of one culture, I get a taste of lifestyles that most people never do. 

Me with a man in the market, specifically a bangle shop. Bangles are traditional ornaments worn mostly by women from the Indian subcontinent.

As a person who identifies as multicultural, I am a bridge for cultures to cross, continuing to attempt paving my way into an American society. 

Instead of saying “I am stuck between two cultures and communities, and I feel like I don’t belong in either”, I have reframed my multiculturalism to: “I’m grateful I have the option to move between differing cultures and communities and choose values and beliefs that serve me.”

Multiculturalism in Activism   

Some might argue that it’s not important to find our identity–molding you into a norm rather than an epitome: American instead of Bangladeshi and American. But, the language we use to describe ourselves frames our reality. My multicultural identity as a Bangladeshi-American shapes my perspective on the climate crisis, as I see the effects in my home country of Bangladesh and in the United States. My multicultural identity allows me to visualize and gain a personal perspective on environmental racism apparent in pipeline routes in Virginia, and even in predominantly POC communities/countries across the globe. My cultural roots in Bangladesh give me a somewhat personalized issue of the global refugee crisis, and have informed my lesson planning to a Syrian refugee I teach English to every week. 

Being multicultural allows me to view the climate crisis in a multidimensional, personalized way. Instead of automatically boycotting fast fashion, my perspective has informed me of how the fast fashion industry may be the only way of supporting millions of people across the world, especially in my home country of Bangladesh in the huge textiles industry; if these people were to lose their jobs, where would they go? Being vegan also comes with privilege, bringing socioeconomic inequalities and cultural differences in the forefront of my mind, informed by my multicultural upbringing. 

Identity matters. If only I knew more about what mine was, and I will, someday. 

Me at a mustard farm in rural Bangladesh, where parts of my family and family friends lived