It’s 2:22 in the afternoon, on June 22nd, 2020 – and I am sitting by a river in the Appalachian mountains. These are the oldest mountains in North America. Warm, green, and unrolling across fourteen states, this land is home to countless creatures. Trees ripple in the summer heat. Jagged boulders stare over miles of blue. Owls screech overhead and frogs belt out songs for the summer solstice. And I sit by the river, toes sinking into the mud, watching.
Last week, on June 15th, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This ruling overturned the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision which prevented the pipeline’s construction, and upheld “a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia" (Gilpin 2020). The Atlantic Coast Pipeline effort is led by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. If it is allowed to be constructed, this 600-mile pipeline would thread through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, harvesting 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day. It would cross through the Appalachian trail a total of 34 times, causing irreparable damage while disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy claim the pipeline is motivated by an increased demand for natural gas and a desire to provide economic opportunity for the people living in the affected areas. Yet the numbers don’t add up: according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, there is no increase in regional consumption through 2033 in most scenarios. The U.S., however, is projected to become a global leader in natural gas exports in the next five years – meaning that it is likely that this harvested gas will be shipped overseas. Further, the economic opportunities presented by this project require specialized workers who will likely be hired from out of state, negating any promise of economic opportunity for the people who actually live in the affected areas.
The cost of the pipeline’s construction is estimated at about $8 billion and according to the co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University, these funds will “take decades to recover.” This shows that even at a basic business level, the proposed pipeline simply doesn’t make sense – if the companies have their consumers at heart, then why not place the $8 billion investment into renewable energy which allows for long term solutions without crippling environmental and public health effects?
These environmental and health effects don’t affect consumers evenly, either. The more populated areas are protected by federal restrictions, so the pipeline is designed to run through poor rural areas in order to avoid these restrictions. The pipeline targets black communities in particular: it plans to place a compressor station in Union Hill, a town founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. This compressor would pose a danger to the health and safety of this community, and is a blatant act of environmental racism. According to a 2013 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, although 24.25% of all North Carolinians live within a mile of an EPA registered polluter, “41% of residents of Latino clusters and 44% of residents of African American clusters live within a mile of such pollution sources.” The pipeline will also deeply affect American Indian tribes whose land it crosses over: “American Indians comprise just over 1 percent of North Carolina residents, but they make up 13 percent of those living within a mile of the gas pipeline’s route” (Ouzts 2018).
As of today, the pipeline is 6% finished and held back by eight permits. The Supreme Court’s decision on June 15th represents one less barrier. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy plan to finish construction by 2022. We can’t let them. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline represents a threat to public safety, environmental ethics, and social justice. We have to show up for our mountains and for each other.
Zoon Garden has linked several petitions below that we ask you to sign today. We are also linking all the resources referenced in this article. Study up, speak out, and share this information. We need you.