Resisting the South's pipeline building boom

Opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have been holding a vigil outside of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's headquarters as the agency considers whether to grant water pollution permits for the project. They include, from left, Greg Yost, Tom Clark and Maple Osterbrink. (Photo by Sue Sturgis/Facing South.)

The U.S. South is at the epicenter of the nationwide push to build new onshore natural gas pipelines, which carry serious environmental and economic risks. Of the 56 projects that have applied for permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) since 2013, 31 run through Southern states.

But the building campaign is meeting resistance in the region, with anti-pipeline organizers holding a series of protests and other events this month targeting both state and federal regulators.

In North Carolina, activists with the Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live launched a vigil outside the state Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) headquarters in Raleigh this week as the agency considers whether to grant water quality permits needed for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project being built by Dominion, Duke Energy and Southern Company Gas that's proposed to run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Some of the activists are taking part in a water-only fast as part of the action, which is being billed as a "fast to support DEQ."

"We are here to show our support for DEQ staff as they make this important decision," said fast participant Greg Yost of Madison County, North Carolina.

NCDEQ is expected to announce its decision some time this month. Next Thursday, Sept. 14, Yost said, the actions will shift to NCDEQ's regional offices across the state. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has not yet stated his position on the pipeline. Yost said he heard from a NCDEQ staff member that Cooper's office has been getting a high volume of calls about the project. Regulators are under intense pressure from the players behind the pipeline to approve the project; the companies wrote a letter to FERC this week asking that it grant final approval this month so tree clearing can begin in November.

Other actions are set for next week in Virginia with a two-day "People's Pipeline Protest" planned against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline as well as the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run over 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia and is being built by Pennsylvania-based natural gas giant EQT with minority stakes held by NextEra, Con Edison, WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream. The protest will involve rallies, music, prayer vigils and sit-ins on Sept. 13 and 14 at Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) offices around the state.

The Virginia protests come as the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) contemplates a final decision on whether to approve permits for the pipelines. McAuliffe has voiced support for the projects, but he's under increasing bipartisan pressure to oppose them. Meanwhile, VADEQ is completing an environmental review following public hearings that were criticized for limiting citizens' comments to a narrow set of water quality impacts.

"Since Gov. McAuliffe and the DEQ won't listen to our voices, we're going to bring our voices directly to all the DEQ offices," said Kiquanda Baker, an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund. "The public comment process was a sham. The agency showed complete disregard for the public's many concerns. We are protesting in September to defend our rights to the land and water necessary for our survival."

Protests also targeting ETP, FERC

This weekend, environmental and indigenous rights groups are holding #StopETP national days of action against Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company behind the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline as well as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline across South Louisiana, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline through the Big Bend region of West Texas, the Mariner Pipelines that cross areas in West Virginia and Texas, and the Rover Pipeline carrying natural gas from West Virginia and other Marcellus shale states to the Midwest.

The organizers are planning to hold actions in 14 locations nationwide, including a protest outside Energy Transfer Partners' Dallas headquarters on Sept. 8 and the Prayer Can Stop a Pipeline event on Sept. 9 at St. Paul Baptist Church in St. James, Louisiana, followed by a #StopETP flotilla down Bayou Lafourche.

Also taking place under the banner of the #StopETP actions was a forum held on Sept. 7 in Live Oak, Florida, that took aim at the Sabal Trail Pipeline, which runs from central Alabama through southwest Georgia to Florida. Spectra Energy of Houston is the pipeline's majority owner, with minority stakes held by Florida-based NextEra Energy and North Carolina-based Duke Energy. FERC authorized the first stage of the project to begin operating back in July.

The fate of the Sabal Trail pipeline could have important implications for other pipeline projects in development. That's because the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled last month that FERC failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the project's greenhouse gas emissions, meaning the agency will have to conduct a new review. Following that ruling, the Southern Environmental Law Center called on FERC to do the same for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

FERC itself was the target of a protest held on Sept. 7 during a U.S. Senate hearing on the nominations of two new members. Three activists with the group Beyond Extreme Energy disrupted the hearing and were arrested. They were Andrew Hinz, who worked for FERC for 25 years, climate activist Ted Glick of New Jersey, and Clarke Herbert, a retired schoolteacher from Alexandria, Virginia.

"In this country FERC allows the legal seizure of private property from landowners because the government determines there is a public need without allowing landowners to question that need or examine the studies the government relies upon," Herbert said in a statement. "At one time pipelines were useful to carry gas to remote areas of the country to keep Grandma warm in the wintertime. Today, with deregulation, pipelines are a platform for commodity trading and the export of gas to foreign countries."

FERC members are scheduled to meet at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20 and may take action on pipeline approvals. Beyond Extreme Energy plans to be there to disrupt the proceedings.