In Response to “Weigh the Costs with the Benefits”

Lynchburg’s newspaper, the News & Advance came out in support of a $2 billion natural gas pipeline that will run from West Virginia, through Virginia and eventually to North Carolina.

 

This is why we shouldn’t support it:

In Response to “Weigh the Costs With the Benefits”

Sean Davis

Seeing my hometown newspaper come out in favor of Dominion’s proposed pipeline to bring natural gas through Nelson County to Hampton Roads and beyond was heartbreaking.

Especially just months after seeing a derailed crude oil train send flames 80 feet into the air along the James River¬.

 

That that event didn’t kill a single person, I believe, is a complete miracle and other communities have not been so fortunate.

As someone that’s been following the environmental movement and covering actions against the expansion of fossil fuels, I really thought that the train derailment would be a wake up call for many in the area.

It presented such an extreme image. People would have to ask questions– why was crude oil from North Dakota being shipped through Lynchburg of all places? Why weren’t the safety regulations in place to prevent this? Had this happened anywhere else?

It’s seemed that wasn’t the case, unfortunately. As soon as the fires burned out and the images were uploaded to social media, we just accepted that it was a freak accident- both random and unpreventable.

Almost a month to the day before the derailment, Sierra Club Virginia released a statement citing recent oil train incidents in the US and Canada. Sierra Club Virginia director, Glen Besa, said in a statement, “These trains are travelling through Lynchburg along the James River through Richmond and on to the York County facility on the York River. We’re concerned that a train derailment could result in an explosion and the loss of life or an oil spill that could jeopardize our drinking water supplies and the environment.”

Turns out they were dead right. Maybe we shouldn’t dismiss their concerns about this pipeline so quickly.

“We share some of their concerns for environmental impact of the construction phase,” the News & Advance Editorial Board claims, as if the only environmental risks are from the construction. “We must look at the bigger picture… the $17 trillion, energy-driven U.S. economy,” it continues.

First of all, the “bigger picture” is the planet and the future of its inhabitants.

There is no debate that climate change is happening; only a failure of the media to accurately portray facts and science to the American people, and the incredible success of fossil fuel lobbyists and propagandists to paint a scientific consensus as a massive hoax perpetrated by hundreds of thousands of scientists from around the world in order to… get increased funding(?).

The real debate is how we are going to deal with rising seas, catastrophic flooding and increased drought while cutting emissions, not whether or not we can pretend we don’t have to.

Second, the article fails to acknowledge the “bigger picture” that is the pivotal fight in this country, and beyond, over energy policy. There really isn’t middle ground. As much as “all-of-the-above” sounds nice, it’s not progressive enough.

We have a choice– either full ahead over the cliff of environmental negligence and intergenerational tyranny, or a full stop, and a change of course to a more just, sustainable future.

That fight encompasses people from across the continent- from indigenous communities in Canada, to ranchers in Texas; from the low-income urban communities that tend to get hit most directly by environmental pollution to community-owned wind farm co-ops in the Midwest; from West Virginia residents fighting mountaintop-removal coal mining to Washington residents fighting against proposed coal export terminals.

And it includes the fight in Nelson County.

Much of that fight to date has been over the controversial natural gas extraction process known as “fracking.” At best, it’s extremely water and energy intensive and it’s effects simply haven’t been studied enough, and the adequate regulations haven’t been put into place(or have been removed such as the “Halliburton Loophole” which exempts fracking companies from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act).

At worst, it destroys the health of people nearby wells and pipelines, contaminates drinking water and aquifers, turns idyllic wilderness to moonscape and causes earthquakes.

We know now too, that natural gas is not the clean “bridge fuel” the industry touted it as.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that “the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” Accounting for that, “total greenhouse gas emissions… are nearly identical to coal,” according to the Sierra Club.

The natural gas plant in New Brunswick, which would be connected to the pipeline, “would emit as much carbon pollution annually as half a million cars,” according to a report by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (Full disclosure, the author is a CCAN fellow). The report also notes that in the company’s most recent 15-year plan, proportionally, there will be no increase in clean energy.

Some, I’m sure, will argue that moving towards clean energy is not feasible, or that the economy wouldn’t be able to support it. Indeed the original article asks, “Would opponents of the pipeline want those homes and businesses in Virginia using electricity from coal-burning power plants… [or the] plant in New Brunswick to be burning coal or carbon-emitting biomass fuel instead?” as if there just isn’t any other option.

Instead of investing $2 billion into this pipeline, Dominion should instead spend that money on renewable energy sources including developing its offshore wind program. Last year the company won the lease to over 112,000 acres off the Virginia coast, but has only slated to build two 6-megawatt turbines.

The entire area has the potential to create 2,000 megawatts and power over 700,000 homes!

The cost of solar energy has plummeted recently- by as much as 60% in two years– making it a viable option as well. Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, is now behind just California in solar growth, while we rank 26th, with no utility-scale solar production.

A move to clean energy would create tens of thousands of jobs as well, and we’re already seeing that across the country where there are now more jobs in clean energy than in coal. Studies show that just developing offshore wind would create 10,000 jobs while the pipeline will create a negligible amount of permanent jobs.

The idea that we can face the defining issue of this generation head on is not just a pipedream. Our shift away from fossil fuels is inevitable, and the sooner we embrace it, the better- for jobs, for those already experiencing the effects of climate change, for the planet as a whole, and for our posterity.

The same people that will make unspeakable amounts of money from this pipeline and the extraction of natural gas, are the same people that knew DOT-111 tanker cars were unsafe for Bakken crude oil transportation, and still decided to use them to ship unfathomable amounts of oil through large population centers every day.

They are the same people that are destroying West Virginia by literally leveling mountains and valleys, leaving the communities there perpetually impoverished and dependent on an industry that has actively exploited their cheap labor for decades.

They are the same people that convinced us to go along with their oil and gas “boom” without the proper regulations in place, without even the infrastructure to handle it, in the name of energy independence only to ship these same extracted fuels to the coast for export to other countries.

Powershift 2013

After two days back in Virginia- waking up after a full night’s sleep, sitting through classes that don’t inspire me or make my blood boil, and being surrounded by people that could give a fuck less about fossil fuels, sustainability, or environmental injustice- I can say that Powershift was actually really great. And I say that with a healthy distrust for big (even environmental) organizations headed by white men and/or more-mainstream liberal organizations like moveon.org.

So first off, Pittsburgh. I’m sorry, I just always thought you would be dirty, at best. This city is fantastic! I saw some of the coolest architecture I’ve ever seen there, as well as a really thriving arts scene. I don’t actually know much of anything about local politics, but they were apparently the first city to ban fracking, as well as exhibiting a number of progressive, green infrastructure projects. The convention center itself is actually the first green convention center in the world and featured many encouraging elements such as hundreds of solar panels on the roof, and an impressive recycling/composting system. This really is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to as well.

Also Anti-flag is from there…

The (in)famous giant rubber ducky!!!
The (in)famous giant rubber ducky!!!
IMG_1289
The Allegheny River at sunset

The first night we missed the keynote speeches, but spent hours walking around looking at the different tables, talking to the people from different organizations. They ran the gamut of encouraging Pittsburgh tourism to ending capitalism…

It was really encouraging looking at the different groups of young people, from literally all of the country, sitting, talking, exchanging ideas, spreading awareness. There were mohawked punks and long-haired, bare-foot hippies and stoic indigenous representatives, and faith leaders, and radical anarchists, and average-looking students. There were green tech executives and ex-coal miners. There were artists and rappers, and occupy-era social media legends. It was a really great moment of “aha! these are our people!”

I really liked that none of the panels or speeches involved proving climate change or skepticism(save for the panel on how to talk to CC skeptics). As a movement, a nation, and as humans in general, the sooner we stop giving legitimacy to fossil fuel industry-backed “skeptics” and disinformation, the better. (if you disagree with that, that’s a whole-nother post..) I was also pleased to see a lot of the focus on impoverished communities and indigenous peoples fighting tar sands, fracking, pollution, environmental degradation, etc- important voices that are, too often, not represented. Being more inclusive and less white/middle-class was also a major theme, although the ability to pay for the registration and travel still reinforced that trend…

I missed it, but during one of the keynotes an indigenous woman was cut off during a speech. I don’t know if it was a time issue or something more nefarious, but it seemed to highlight the divide between the big-box environmental groups and the more radical, smaller ones. During a speech by a, black, ex-Obama organizer, a section of the audience stood up chanting “The EAC (Energy Action Coalition- the main organizer of the event) doesn’t stand for me!” There was at least one speaker that resigned in a show of solidarity.

Similarly, somebody put up a banner in front of the snack bar that read “Don’t support Coca Cola,” and promoted local, sustainable food over the corporate, Convention Center-contracted company. In one of the panels I attended on capitalism and the climate, one of the panelists- a more radical, indigenous organizer- broke away from the pack and argued against using solar cells because they are made from copper, which is just as destructive as other extractive processes. This was really interesting because it blew up one of the two big paths to energy sustainability that virtually everyone else was calling for.

I was kind of surprised more instances of protest within the conference didn’t occur, with such a huge variety of people, organizations, and opinions. That being said, many of the speakers and workshops surprised me too- there were(really, really good/ productive) anti-oppression workshops that focused on male privilege, white privilege, and class divide as well as panels on ending capitalism and what to do if you get arrested protesting. It wasn’t all just a “lefty” feel-good, flower power, tree-hugging fest.

With such a huge focus on sustainability, and food, it was a wonder that nothing sustainable/environmentally-conscious was offered. Somebody brought up that Food Not Bombs had provided food at a similar, smaller, event. Somebody else pointed out that they could have had food trucks, which could’ve provided a wide range of dietary options and supported small businesses. On Saturday, a colleague and I wandered through downtown looking for anything that provided good vegan/vegetarian food for over an hour.

Maybe I just have an over-affinity for the days of Occupy, but I would really like to see something with this content, and size, happen in a more-democratic, more-egalitarian, grass-roots fashion, with no registration fees or costs, but suggested donations, allowing environmentally-minded people from every walk of life to attend. Similarly, I feel like many of the panels were not as productive as they could have been, strictly because of the time constraints.

A couple of the highlights for me were the male priviledge workshop- I don’t remember the speaker’s name, but he(and he was very adiment about not assuming a person’s preferred gender, so this shows how much I listen..) completely kicked ass. A lot of time was given to audience members voicing their concerns and ideas, and I feel like it was really productive, especially to anybody that hadn’t ever thought about sexism before; and the “Social Media All stars” and photography panels. There was an interesting panel on connecting the “School to prison Pipeline” to environmental justice that featured at least one member of the Dream Defenders- one of my favorite movement-organizations right now.

Really though, my biggest complaint is that I couldn’t attend absolutely everything.

members of The Overpass Light Brigade take the stage behind Rev. Yearwood.
members of The Overpass Light Brigade take the stage behind Rev. Yearwood during the Saturday keynote.
IMG_1319
ODU student, Tynell Johnson, with Kandi Mosset of The Indigenous Environmental Network. Mosset spoke at the Saturday keynote address.