Category Archives: Citizen Activism

The Koch Brothers vs. God

According to the March 14, 2018, cover story in Grist, The Koch Brothers vs. God, the fossil fuel lobby preached its gospel in Virginia. Now, black churches are fighting back.

“Rev. Paul Wilson fastens enough buttons on his jacket to stay warm on a chilly fall afternoon but still keep his clergy collar visible. He’s whipping up a crowd of demonstrators in downtown Richmond, Virginia, where they’re waiting to make a short march from Richmond’s Capitol Square Bell Tower to the nearby National Theatre. His eyes covered by sunglasses, and his head by a newsboy hat, Wilson speaks to the assembled about their Christian responsibility to protect the planet. …. The pipeline’s proposed route runs directly between Union Hill and Union Grove Baptist churches, the two parishes where Wilson serves as pastor in rural Buckingham County, 70 miles south of Richmond. The proposed site for the pipeline’s 54,000-horsepower, gas-fired compressor station is also set to be built right between them. Wilson fears the station could put his congregation and the surrounding community at risk of a range of ailments, especially asthma, because those living near natural gas facilities often suffer from chronic respiratory problems. …. [I]n response to the Koch brothers’ attempt to sway their flocks, Wilson and others affiliated with black churches in Virginia have channeled their outrage into a new calling: climate advocacy. For Wilson, environmentalism has become a biblical mission. ‘The climate is changing,’ he says. ‘And it’s black folk in Virginia who will lose the most.'”

Rev. Wilson and Rev. Faith Harris discuss the ways in which Koch-brother-funded groups like Fueling U.S. Forward work to convince poor and minority communities that increases in cheap fossil fuels make good economic sense, using what Rev. Harris calls a “purposeful misinformation” campaign.

Antonio Branch, a community organizer with Richmond-based Virginia Civic Engagement Table, “considers the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline ‘part of a larger environmental attack’ on minority communities in Virginia and neighboring North Carolina, two states on planned pipeline route. Many of the region’s proposed oil and gas projects sit near poor and rural areas. In Virginia’s Buckingham County, home to Rev. Wilson’s churches, the community closest to that facility is 85 percent African American. By contrast, the state’s overall black population is 19 percent. ‘This isn’t a coincidence,’ Branch says.”

Kiquanda Baker, the Hampton Roads organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says, “Our role as community leaders is to show that all of these issues are connected…The more aware we are of environmental injustices, the less likely our communities can be tricked into rallies by the Koch brothers.”

Read the full article here.

ABRA Asks for CSI Help

A March 13, 2018, message from Lew Freeman, Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), for those who attended the March 3, 2018, ABRA’s Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) – and to those who were unable to attend:

Many thanks to those of you who attended the March 3 meeting we held at the Staunton Holiday Inn to unveil details of ABRA’s Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI). We are very encouraged by the response of those attending the meeting to the program. For those of you who registered but were unable to attend the meeting, I include you in this follow-up email because of your expressed interest in the CSI program.

Our legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) continue vigorously, as evidenced by the report in last Friday’s ABRA Update of law suits filed last Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals to halt construction of the ACP. ABRA Update is the main way in which we will stay in touch with you and others about the CSI program. (For those of you who have not been on ABRA’s mailing list, you may subscribe here to the weekly ABRA Updates.)

In the meantime, tree felling has begun and ground-disturbing activity could commence by April. We must be ready to monitor the construction of the ACP to assure that violations of permit conditions and environmental regulations are noticed and reported to proper regulatory authorities. [See, for example, the Pipeline CSI Incident Report for March 13, 2018, on the Friends of Nelson Web page.] To do that, WE NEED YOUR HELP AND INVOLVEMENT! Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Sign up as a CSI volunteer. This can be easily done at Do it today! And, urge your friends and colleagues who care about preserving the environmental integrity of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge region to become a CSI volunteer.
  2. Visit and use the CSI website as a resource for important background information on the program: 
  3. When you see an incident associated with ACP construction you believe could be a violation of permit conditions or regulations, report it to the ABRA hotline at 1-877-Go2ABRA (1-877-462-2272) or send an email to
  4. Stay abreast of all pipeline developments (including the MVP and other projects) by regularly reading ABRA Update and visiting our Facebook page, where new developments are reported several times a day (
  5. Finally, if you have questions, feel free to call Lew Freeman: 540-468-2769.

Thanks again for your interest and forthcoming participation in ABRA’s CSI program. It cannot succeed with out YOU!

Peters Mountain Tree Sit

A March 13, 2018, video from Appalachians Against Pipelines includes footage of trees being felled during Monday’s snowstorm – right up to the base of the sit.

Appalachians Against Pipelines says, “Currently, the only thing physically standing in the way of pipeline construction is the tree sit on Peters Mountain. People in trees are doing what our ‘representatives’ and ‘regulators’ refuse to do — they’re protecting land, water, and communities of Appalachia from corporations that believe their money gives them the right to pillage this land and pollute our water.”

Notes from the CSI Meeting

On March 3, 2018, in Staunton, over one hundred pipeline opponents from VA, WV and NC heard experts convened by ABRA review the legal cases against the ACP and MVP and learn about the Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI).

First, attorneys David Sligh (Wild Virginia), Joe Lovett and Ben Luckett (Appalachian Mountain Advocates), and Greg Buppert (SELC) brought us up to date on the numerous lawsuits they have filed. Sligh described our attorneys’ “broad attack on the certificates of public convenience and necessity” issued by FERC and followed by other federal agencies as well as state and local agencies/boards. Lovett reviewed the legal actions challenging the pipelines under the Clean Water Act, noting that the VA DEQ issued its certificate improperly and WVA should, by WV law, review each water body crossing individually. Luckett focused on the litigation against federal agencies under the Natural Gas act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The majority of the meeting was devoted to the CSI. Project leader Rick Webb of the DPMC gave an overview of the program. Since it’s clear that the pipelines’ backers will push ahead relentlessly and have cultivated strong political support, we need to activate a “Plan B” even as “Plan A–stop both pipelines”–continues to play out. The goal of Plan B is to do everything we can to hold ACP and MVP accountable for the inevitable damages and predictable violations (based on other pipeline projects) that will occur.

Webb pointed out that CSI is aimed at providing reliable information to guide decision makers and inform legal actions, and not to engage in confrontations. To the extent possible, CSI will work with governmental agencies toward a two-way flow of information, and those working relationships are already in progress. Every effort will be made to assure that all monitoring is fully within legal guidelines.

CSI elements include:

  • A digital sampling system that will allow citizen-generated monitoring data to be rapidly entered, catalogued, and shared
  • The Pipeline Air force comprising both manned fixed-wing airplanes and drones
  • Stream monitoring
  • Karst dye tracing

Kirk Bowers (Sierra Club) reviewed the CSI’s erosion and sedimentation monitoring plans. When (not if) problems occur, it is within VA DEQ’s purview to issue stop work orders.

Jeff Shingleton reviewed the plans for the Pipeline Air Force. These are private citizens operating their own airplanes. With high resolution cameras they can document failures of erosion control devices, muddy streams downriver from construction, and other violations. He showed pictures he had taken that showed very clearly problems caused by the Stonewall Gathering project.

Ben Cunningham (Friends of Nelson) talked about his efforts to build a drone monitoring capability. Drones have limitations (the operator must alway have visual contact with the drone) but also numerous advantages: they are much less expensive than aircraft, they can be deployed quickly, and they can gather photographs of violations that airplanes might miss due to tree cover. The Pipeline Air Force now has one drone and Ben owns one. He is a licensed drone operator. He hopes to recruit others who have drone licenses or are willing to get one.

Dan Shaffer (ABRA) reviewed plans for citizen reporting, through which concerned citizens can submit reports and photos to a central office that will organize the input and get it out to enforcement personnel.

Jake Lemon (Trout Unlimited) gave an overview of the “citizen scientist” stream quality monitoring effort. Friends of Nelson is one of many organizations that are working with TU on gathering baseline data on streams that would be crossed by the ACP and MVP.  With several years of monthly monitoring of stream turbidity, pH, conductivity and other parameters, this program should prove valuable in substantiating claims that the pipeline operators are violating the law.

Dick Brooks (Cowpasture River Preservation Assoc.) closed the meeting with comments about how interested citizens can pitch in to the CSI effort.

Stay tuned for formal information about CSI, along with links to additional information, coming soon from CSI.

[Thanks to Elinor Amidon for notes and Doug Wellman for preparing the report]

Citizen Activism Praised

In a March 2, 2018, editorial, the Staunton News Leader says citizen activism is “The only good byproduct of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

“In the nearly four years since we began reporting and writing about the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, never did it seem unlikely that Dominion Resources would eventually get its way, ripping up our mountainsides, sawing through forests, bulldozing across streams and digging its way through the Shenandoah Valley. Perhaps Dominion has its own version of the state seal, with a motto beneath a vanquished opponent that’s edited to read, ‘Thus always to those who oppose Dominion.’ If they do, it’s because they bought it and paid for it, along with the rest of our state government. …. But they’ve created something else, unintentionally. Their project has given rise to a group of citizen activists who are not likely to stand down any time soon. …. And there’s no sign they’re going away, which is a good thing as Dominion’s plans move forward. Someone needs to be watching, and we have no confidence that the state agencies will assure that Dominion’s promises, as weak as they have been, actually line up with their actions.

Read the full editorial here.