Opponents force energy giants to wave the white flag on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Michael M. Barrick
‘Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.’
— Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe
FROST, W.Va. — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is dead.
In a news release announcing the decision, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, builders of the ACP, stated, “A series of legal challenges to the project’s federal and state permits has caused significant project cost increases and timing delays. These lawsuits and decisions have sought to dramatically rewrite decades of permitting and legal precedent including as implemented by presidential administrations of both political parties. As a result, recent public guidance of project cost has increased to $8 billion from the original estimate of $4.5 to $5.0 billion. In addition, the most recent public estimate of commercial in-service in early 2022 represents a nearly three-and- a-half-year delay with uncertainty remaining.”
This is a stunning development, as opponents faced an uphill battle against two of the nation’s most powerful corporations, compromised politicians and crony-capitalist regulatory agencies from the moment the ACP was announced in 2014. However, the ACP ran into a collection of mountaineers determined to hold onto their homesteads, public health experts, ecologists, environmental groups, lawyers and scores of unnamed but very determined human beings that refused to roll over for Dominion and Duke. They understood from the first day that the companies pushing fracking and related pipeline development on unsuspecting citizens cared nothing about property rights, public health or the environment.
The ACP, originating in North Central West Virginia and intended to stretch more than 600 miles into eastern North Carolina after traversing mountains, valleys, streams and woodlands of the Appalachian Mountains, was generally supported by the governors and legislators of both Democrats and Republicans in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. So, those wishing to preserve their home places and the incredibly diverse beauty and environment of the Appalachians could not count upon politicians. They had to count upon themselves.
So they did, especially the folks living in the mountainous portions of the route. From its source, the ACP headed southeast, across the eastern counties of the Mountain State into Virginia, where the ACP threatened national forests, the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Landowners sued and were sued by the ACP over eminent domain, protests were held, and thousands upon thousands of comments sent to federal and state regulatory agencies.
In Pocahontas County, near here, as I was visiting last year with Allen and Debbie Johnson, whose home here is just 600 yards from where the ACP was routed, Debbie shared that their strategy was “Pray and Delay.” It has arguably worked. Nevertheless, Allen acknowledged that though he considers the decision to be an answer to prayer, it’s not because the energy companies suddenly have put people ahead of profit. Rather; it is because of determined people defending their homes and the sacred earth itself through pockets of resistance developed along the route. “We’re God’s response to prayer,” says Allen. “We’re the answer to prayer.”
Marilyn Shifflett, with Friends of Nelson, says, “For now, the thousands involved in fighting the disastrous Atlantic Coast Pipeline are rejoicing in this victory. Tomorrow, or perhaps in a few days, we will begin to reflect and move forward. No one will be left without a few battle scars, and all of us have surely been changed. We all now realize that we cannot rest for long. Many will go on to fight the next project, and stand in solidarity with the next community threatened with destruction by the fossil fuel industry, and I for one, look forward to the next win, ever grateful for those I’ve met on the battlefield!”
Project Director Robin Blakeman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition says, “We congratulate all who have worked so hard to stop this pipeline, which is a terrible economic, as well as environmental, prospect. We are rejoicing in the fact that many landowners and native species will be spared the damage and danger of this pipeline, and we hope that similar projects—like the Mountain Valley Pipeline—will heed the lesson learned by the proponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: It’s simply not feasible to build a large scale pipeline through the mountains of West Virginia!”
Joao Barroso, a landowner in Randolph County, W.Va. was ecstatic. I featured him and his pristine land in an article in March, 2015. He shot me an email last evening as soon as the news broke, saying, “WE WON THE FIGHT! Dominion and Duke announced that the ACP is canceled, history, gone!” He continued, “Over the years, FERC received thousands of comments from property owners, landowners, against this aberration! The last push were comments against the 2 year extension requested by the ACP, so that they could ‘fix things’ and still go ahead with this monstrosity! Well, justice prevailed! … And we will continue to stand against the use and abuse of eminent domain for private gain! We will continue to stand against the contamination of our waters! Against air and noise pollution! We will fight to preserve our rights as property owners, as concerned individuals, against these companies corporate greed and their blatant disregard for LIfe, Liberty, Property and our individual and collective Pursuit of Happiness!”
He promised to continue the fight against fracking and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). He adds, “It’s proof that we the people still have some clout, I reckon.” He continues, “If we could put an end to eminent domain use and abuse, all these problems would go away, because they would not be able to take advantage of people. And of course, cronyism has to go too, because FERC always came across to me as Dominion’s partner and henchman, rather than a regulatory commission that should make sure people don’t get abused and taken advantage of! In my mind, FERC stands for Fiends of Eminent-domain Ripoff Colluders!”
He asserts, “Years of fighting did produce results, (but) at a high cost, health wise.” Still, he adds, “The fight goes on! Until we can secure the sacrosanct right of the people, to their properties, to clean water and air, we ain’t done! Not yet! Will see you on the battlefield! He concluded his email with a nod to a West Virginia slogan and the state motto. “West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful!” he wrote, concluding, “Montani Semper Liberi.”
Meanwhile, Allen Johnson shares, “We are elated. The last year or two we thought they were up against the wall, with no no demand and being short of permits. We were hoping they would throw in the towel.” Still, he says, “We were surprised. But it was an ill-conceived project from the beginning.” The high mountains of the Allegheny and Blue Ridge were simply not suited for the project, explains Allen. And, Dominion admitted as much to Barroso. Says Johnson, “They had the money and the political power. We knew at the beginning it would be a long shot, but we thought we would try.” Johnson is also the president of the Eight Rivers Council.
He recalled that it was not long after the ACP was announced that the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance — a coalition of more than 50 organizations — was formed to challenge the ACP (and other threats to the region’s ecology). Johnson said the group has focused on education, having landowners write to regulatory agencies, trained monitors and provided aerial surveillance of pipeline construction and regulatory adherence.
“It has just been amazing citizen participation. It gave me faith in the democracy to which we aspire. There is so much money that can be used to obstruct the will of the people.”
Still, the Johnsons have prayed as much as they worked to delay. “As late as yesterday, we were riding by a fracking yard where a beautiful farm used to be. We prayed against the pipeline.” He shares, “Debbie took the lead on it. We prayed for delay because we felt that delay would work. Friday we prayed for delay.”
He emphasizes, though, that their prayers were diverse. “You pray for unity, perseverance, skill, give us wisdom, courage.” And yes, he says, “We were praying that God would soften the hearts of the opponents, that they would understand that throwing in the towel was the right thing to do.”
In an email, he said, “I believe all of us who joined together in this battle have come to appreciate one another, knowing that when we join together we can be a force for good. Together in this struggle we have built community among ourselves and reached out far and wide.”
That outreach must continue, according to a pointed statement released by POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition) members fighting the MVP.
Maury Johnson, POWHR Executive Committee Member and MVP impacted landowner, says, “For six years the people of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina have been terrorized by pipeline companies like the ACP and the MVP. Today is a great day for those people who have devoted their lives to educating the public and fighting for their water, air, and property, and to lead the way to a cleaner energy future. Today—as an ally with those great people and with thoughts of my dear friend April Pierson-Keating, who did not live to see this day—I rejoice. But the job is only half finished. Today we enjoy this victory, but tomorrow we must double down our efforts, pull together and send MVP and the MVP Southgate to the scrap heap of bad ideas with the ACP.”
Russell Chisholm, POWHR Co-Chair, adds, “The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines have been doomed from the start, yet recklessly and carelessly proceeded to trample people, sacred places, and human rights to serve their own financial gain. Like MVP, Dominion’s disaster has been propped up by hollow and baseless assurances to investors and regulators alike. Only four months ago Dominion argued before the US Supreme Court they should be permitted to burrow their pipeline under the historic and iconic Appalachian Trail. Dominion’s abandonment of this project serves as a reminder to all who are working for environmental justice: stick together, keep fighting, keep showing up for each other. Today we celebrate with the community of Union Hill and pipeline fighters everywhere.”
And, Roberta Bondurant, also POWHR Co-Chair, shares, “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission capitulated to Dominion and ACP over the objections of communities, dragging landowners through the wringer of eminent domain abuse and an arduous certification process—only to see ACP defeated by the very same challenges still facing MVP. ‘Build first, fix problems later’ will always fail the public when our very real—now proven—concerns for our water and other natural assets are ignored in the name of private profit. Nelson Mandela said, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ Applause and congratulations to our friends along the now abandoned ACP. We celebrate with you.”
With such a hard-fought, six-year battle, that included deaths like that of Keating-Johnson and Bill Hughes in Wetzel County, feelings towards Dominion and Duke are likely less than charitable, so Johnson pleas, “While we celebrate this awesome victory, we should refrain any gloating that might offend our neighbors who will be upset at the pipeline cancellation as they forgo the impermanent high paying jobs and temporary spending into our local businesses that construction might have brought. The ACP caused division in our rural communities between those for and those against the pipeline. Let us pray that our shared love for our communities will ultimately draw us together.”
© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2020.