The Atlantic Coast Pipeline undermines property rights

Victoria Zawitowski
Staff Columnist

Gas at the Exxon on Broad Street came down to $1.99 in the past week. Unfortunately, that joy will be short-lived. There is a much higher price we pay for our personal rights and to the environment in the pursuit of cheap fuel.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a chief environmental concern for Virginia. Dominion Power, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources have partnered to produce this $4.5-$5 billion project. The 550-mile pipeline will stretch through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina and ultimately infringe upon the property rights of more than 2,500 landowners along the proposed route.

A Virginia law enacted in 2004 allows natural gas companies’ wants to prevail over individual property rights. According to Section 56-49.01, any natural gas company can access private property for the purpose of examining, testing and appraising the land of a proposed pipeline route. The law also states that these companies must give written notice to the land owner at least 15 days prior to their visit, but unfortunately may still access the land without the owner’s express permission.

Jim Norvelle, a spokesperson for Dominion, told the Daily Progress that the company is taking legal action against 240 Virginia property owners for not allowing company surveyors onto their land. Property rights are a fundamental part of citizens’ rights, supported by both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Big corporations looking for a profit are slowly chipping away at those rights.

The 2012 Virginia statute that regulated the use of eminent domain by private enterprises does nothing for our state’s landowners either.  Not only does federal law support the right of natural gas companies to appraise potential territory, but they have the power to allow the actual use of the land once it’s deemed suitable for a pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the authority to accept, reject or modify a natural gas company’s request to build a pipeline on private land. Should the commission approve the project, landowners must acquiesce under the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain, which was originally intended for our government during times of war, is now a mechanism for big businesses.

Eminent domain is used to deny property rights to citizens under the guise that natural gas pipelines are for the greater good. Many environmental groups are opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline because fracking is detrimental to our environment. Hydraulic fracturing and the natural gas pipelines pose risks to the community’s water resources and explosions from pipe leaks. Even landowners who take no issue with the pipeline itself disapprove of the tactics these natural gas companies are allowed to use, as sanctioned by our own government.

In addition to imposing on the many private lots and lives of families along the pipeline’s path, the plan would invade the George Washington National Forest, Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway. During his campaign for election, Gov. Terry McAuliffe opposed opening the George Washington National Forest to fracking and sought to fight climate change, but now contradicts himself in his support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

If the route is built according to plan, the majority of the pipeline will be in Virginia. Legislators who back the pipeline project frequently discuss the financial gain our state will see from its construction. They predict more jobs and cheaper fuel for the larger part of Virginia. But neither the support of the federal government nor the promise of an economic boom for the state can quell the concern for our environment and the squandering of our individual freedoms.

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