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ACP Protesters Descend on State DEQ Offices

Across Virginia this week people gathered at offices of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, to voice their concerns and demands about the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz attended Thursday’s [Sept. 14] gathering just outside of Harrisonburg at the Valley Regional DEQ Office.

[Background music: “We Don’t Want Your Pipeline,” woven throughout]

Organizers had planned for three days of protests across the state, but canceled the first day, Tuesday, due to concerns about the effects of Hurricane Irma. Wednesday’s rally was a vigil, and Thursday’s was to include a peaceful sit-in at the Richmond DEQ office entrance.

Among the 80 people gathered just off the Harrisonburg DEQ office parking lot were landowners and residents of areas impacted by the proposed pipelines, political hopefuls, and community organizers who collectively demanded that Governor Terry McAuliffe and the DEQ exercise their authority and responsibility to make companies prove that water quality standards will be met if the pipelines are built.

Musician Robin Williams led the singing.

[Singing: “We Don’t Want Your Pipeline”]

More than one person pointed out that Governor McAuliffe has been behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, from its get-go, as this YouTube video, posted by Dominion three years ago this month, shows the governor announcing the ACP in a press conference.

VIDEO AUDIO OF GOVERNOR TERRY MCAULLIFFE:  I’m thrilled to be here today standing alongside executives from two of Virginia’s leading energy companies, Tom Ferrill of Dominion Resources [fades out]….

Now, three years later, the DEQ is reviewing and compiling comments collected in the public comment period earlier this year, and will make a recommendation to the Water Control Board later this fall regarding water quality conditions and certification.

Ann Regn is the DEQ manager of public information and outreach. She said that “DEQ staff and contractors are reviewing the Erosion and Sediment plans and Stormwater plans required for every foot of proposed construction.”

ANN REGN: We feel like we have covered all the potential gaps. We’re confident that whatever we propose is going to be protective of water quality from a legal and science standpoint. That’s our job, and that’s what we will recommend to the citizen board.

But those at the noon rally were more than a little skeptical.

Nancy Sorrells is chair of the Augusta County Alliance.

NANCY SORRELLS: They’re not looking at the individual stream crossings and wetland crossings and the issues they’re supposed to be looking at that every other project in the state of Virginia has always had to look at and always has to under the Clean Water Act. They’re not doing their job.

Again, from 2014, Governor McAuliffe:

VIDEO AUDIO OF GOVERNOR MCAULLIFFE: I intend to use the full resources of the office of the governor to market this new opportunity for us in every nation around the globe

Ernie Reed is running for a seat on the Nelson County Board of Supervisors.

ERNIE REED: The DEQ can't possibly give an unbiased analysis to this because when your boss tells you that this is what we are doing, and your job tells you that you have to do something else, you have to decide where your allegiance is, and it takes courage to do that.

Bobby Whitescarver was a field conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for three decades.

BOBBY WHITESCARVER: Show me how you’re going to cross 189 streams in Augusta County. There’s no way you can unearth 9,000 acres of Earth and not violate Virginia’s water quality standards. We haven’t even seen the plans. Show me the detailed drawings.

Again, from 2014, Governor McAuliffe:

VIDEO AUDIO OF GOVERNOR MCAULLIFFE: By the time this pipeline is complete, we are going to have manufacturer after manufacturer lined up to in manufacturing and creating these new jobs in this new 21st century economy.

PETER VOLOSIN: We’re continuously allowing fossil fuel industries to get whatever they can, whether it’s fracking or building pipelines, when we should be focused on the future.

Roanoke’s Peter Volosin is running to unseat Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte in Virginia’s sixth district.

VOLOSIN: Other countries outside the U.S. are making the move to renewables, and they’re eating our lunch right now, and we need to get back to our leadership status on climate change and move forward.

In an open letter to Governor McAuliffe and the DEQ director, rally organizers called for rejection of the pipelines, saying that they would have “devastating” impacts. Organizer Jennifer Lewis:

JENNIFER LEWIS: We are counting on them to, well, deny the permits would be great, but also to reject the 401 permit process. There are just so many concerns that we have about this pipeline.

Christopher Clymer Kurtz was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 - 2019.