Deborah Kushner, a Nelson County resident, was participating in a picket line downtown on Broad Street around noon last Wednesday.
About an hour later, she and 22 others were escorted away from the Governor’s mansion toward a tent where their information would be recorded and their criminal records updated to reflect a trespassing arrest by police.
This is how Kushner and others who participated in the protest, organized by Maryland-based environmental advocacy group Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), decided to send a message to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The group’s idea was to urge McAuliffe to reject Dominion Power’s proposals for two natural gas pipelines and permits allowing the energy giant to dump treated coal-ash into the James River.
For Kushner, the issue is close to home — literally. She said one of the proposed pipelines, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, will pass through five miles from her home in Nelson County and could have negative affects on her community.
“I know people whose land is in the direct path of this pipeline,” Kushner said in a written statement. “We must stop our dependence on fossil fuels that are heating up our atmosphere, destroying our mountains, rising sea levels and clogging and polluting waterways. If it takes marching, picketing and getting arrested, so be it. We are fighting for our survival.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is a proposed 600-mile pipeline which would run from Harrison County, W.Va., and travel southeast through Virginia and into South Carolina. If approved, construction for the pipeline would begin in fall 2017.
“We respect everyone’s right to express their views, but we fundamentally disagree with anyone who says we can eliminate natural gas from our economy and still have electricity and home heating for all Virginians. That’s just totally unrealistic.”
Like the ACP, the proposed 301-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, (MVP) would begin in West Virginia and pass through southern Virginia. If approved, the MVP would hypothetically begin construction in late 2018.
“My wife and I draw our drinking water from a spring that could be disrupted or drained completely by the sort of trenching and blasting required by the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” said Russell Chisholm, a Newport resident whose home is a few miles from the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Like Kushner, Chisholm was arrested in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Police escorted each of the 23 protesters one at a time on Wednesday, as other protesters chanted the names of those being arrested in support.
“Governor McAuliffe and his administration have the power to protect our clean water. It’s not a question of means but of the political will to do the right thing.”
Many at Wednesday’s protest urged companies like Dominion to move away from natural gas, a notion which Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said isn’t feasible.
“We respect everyone’s right to express their views, but we fundamentally disagree with anyone who says we can eliminate natural gas from our economy and still have electricity and home heating for all Virginians,” Ruby said. “That’s just totally unrealistic.”
Ruby said Virginians have plenty to gain from the construction of these two pipelines like cleaner electricity and affordable heating, lower energy costs and better paying jobs for thousands of Virginians.
The governor’s office is taking a similar stance, according to Assistant Communications Director for Governor Terry McAuliffe, Sam Coleman.
Coleman said McAuliffe has to balance the basic economic reality with the “very real threat” of climate change.
“I think the governor would be the first to say, ‘we respect having differences of opinion on the matter,’” Coleman said. “But he’s been very consistent on his support of the pipeline and what it’s going to do for the economy of southwest Virginia (…) we feel that he’s done a remarkable job.”