Category Archives: Citizen Activism

Video: This Land Is My Land


A year ago Sebastian Mlynarski and two others from NY came and interviewed property rights activists and Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents — Richard Averitt, the Limberts and Union Hill residents among others — about the injustice to landowners on the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Click here for the 6 minute video, This Land Is My Land, directed by Sebastian Mlynarski and Rachel Fleit, who hope to produce a feature-length documentary.

Report on Natural Gas Act Hearing


Fellow pipeline fighter Irene Leech attended the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Natural Gas Act hearing on February 5, 2020. With her permission, we are sharing her notes on her experience. Thank you, Irene!

I was at the hearing. I sent my comments to the record. My Montgomery Congressman, Morgan Griffith, is on the committee. He used his first 5 minutes to enter my statement into the record and to tell them I was there – affected by both pipelines. He told the industry that his constituents did not verify the good working relationship they claimed. He also told them FERC ignored the request by a group of Virginia federal elected officials for at least one more hearing. They also refused to consider the combined effect of the MVP and ACP. Griffith and Kaine have introduced similar bills that address a little of what we care about.

LaFleur did a masterful job of directly laying out the problems. She spoke only for herself. She was extremely tactful describing those opposed to her positions as genuinely viewing things differently but made clear change is needed.

Maury Johnson from WVA was invited and uninvited to speak as a landowner. There were three other affected landowners from the MVP there. I believe I was the only one from the ACP. Griffith clearly described my impact from the ACP. When Maury spoke to former chairman LaFleur she already knew we were there as landowners.

Griffith entered Karolyn Givens comments into the record with the second panel and asked the industry what can be done to incentivize industry to genuinely work with landowners – at my suggestion. The question was essentially ignored.

Hearing planners decided to displace landowners but we were there early to ensure seats (arriving around 7; at 9am we were told sitting in line outside the meeting room, not blocking any door, was considered protesting and we had to stand if we wanted to stay. They let us in at 9:50). We made sure the committee knew we were present. We shook our heads no when false things were said. We had scarves that said FERC doesn’t work but did not show them once the meeting was underway, being told that would get us thrown out – but folks saw them and pictures are on Facebook and Twitter. We also talked with staff after the hearing so we have their contact info and they have ours.

I think we made good use of our day. I did not widely share my comments but will get a copy to you. The ACP and MVP were referenced several times to point out problems with the Natural Gas Act.

We got things on the record – started the process to create change. I’m bummed we didn’t make the news – but they had a vaping hearing simultaneously along with a briefing on the coronavirus – plus State of the Union and impeachment.

P.S. Congressman Riggleman’s statement was announced as being put on the record but I have not seen/heard it.

[Note: Congressman Denver Riggleman’s statement is here.]

Video: North Carolinians battle the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline


A wonderful new video from independent news outlet Grist.   Eastern North Carolina is home to the environmental justice movement – and also to some of the state’s biggest threats to human and environmental health, the latest being the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The documentary was published in partnership with Southerly, a nonprofit media organization that covers ecology, justice, and culture in the American South.

Grist also published the December 3, 2019 article looking at the entire route of the 600-mile proposed pipeline: A Pipeline Runs Through It.

Friends of Nelson 2019 Annual Report


Friends of Nelson exists to serve the people of this special community. Because of your continued support—whether attending our meetings and rallies, volunteering for one of our programs, or supporting us financially—we have accomplished a great deal during the five years of our existence.  We have challenged the pipeline builders’ assertions about the ACP’s great benefits and minimal dangers.  The issues we and our allies have raised are now front and center in Virginia and beyond where battles over the huge national pipeline build-out are raging.  We have helped push back the announced in-service date of the ACP by at least two years; the projected cost of the pipeline has ballooned to the point that investors and rating companies are expressing concerns; and both Duke and Dominion have acknowledged the possibility that their pipeline may not be built as planned.

But there is more to do.  We cannot rest on our laurels.  Until the Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle is stopped, we must continue to work hard to bring the ACP’s weaknesses to the attention of key policy makers and follow through to get them to take action.  We hope for your continued support through monetary donations and participation in our 2020 campaigns.  (Click here for donation form to print and mail)

Please start the new year by joining us for our annual celebration, January 12th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center.  Stay tuned for more information.

FON NEWSLETTER + FACEBOOK – We continued weekly publication of our widely read and praised newsletter. This essential outreach program alerts readers to upcoming public meetings, rallies, deadlines for public comments and important events. It concisely summarizes the major points of key reports, articles and other news on the ACP and other aspects of the struggle to shift from an economy based on fossil fuels to the clean energy economy we must have. Other articles and reports of possible interest are listed by title and with links to web sites. Through our Facebook posts of important actions and upcoming events, we reach approximately 5,000 followers.

PUBLIC INFO + EDUCATION – We continued our “tabling” activities at the Nelson Farmers’ Market, public meetings, and various regional festivals and other special events.  From May through October, we are present at the weekly farmers’ market, where we answer visitors’ questions and collect signatures on letters to key decision-makers.  In 2019, we got an average of 30 signatures on over 17 different letters.  We installed additional large NO PIPELINE signs on major thoroughfares throughout Nelson County; these signs frequently provoke market visitors to stop by our display and talk with us.  We also submitted many letters to the editors of regional newspapers, 16 of which were printed.  We held a number of public meetings at which outside experts provided information on a variety of topics, including the legal aspects of the ACP review, developments in renewable energy, the risks of burying the ACP on Nelson’s steep slopes, reforming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, potential problems with pipeline coatings, and the struggle for environmental justice in the Union Hill community in Buckingham County.

EFFORTS TO INFLUENCE DECISION-MAKERS – In concert with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) and our allied citizen groups, we continued our efforts to inform and educate local, state, and federal office-holders about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its many deficiencies and dangers. The impact of any specific letter, petition, call or conversation may be hard to discern, but policy makers are beginning to understand our opposition to the ACP and other unnecessary, dangerous, costly and unfair fossil fuel infrastructure projects. For example, we joined other organizations urging Virginia Attorney General Herring to oppose the EPA’s plan to reduce state and local governments’ authority under the Clean Water Act; soon after, Mr. Herring joined 22 other state attorneys general in a formal objection.

STREAM MONITORING – For the past three years, Friends of Nelson has participated in the Trout Unlimited/West Virginia Rivers citizen science stream monitoring program. On a monthly basis, 16-18 trained volunteers gather baseline water quality data on 9 small streams that would be crossed by the ACP.  If and when ACP construction begins in Nelson County, we will begin collecting water quality data on a weekly basis.  The end result of this volunteer effort will be solid water quality data that will be instrumental in pursuing corrective actions. In addition to the citizen science program, we helped ABRA’s Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) program train volunteers how to observe and report possible violations on other county streams.

OTHER STREAM OBSERVATION – Through the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance’s (CSI), trained volunteers keep watch on other streams that may be polluted by ACP construction. This “adopt a stream” program trains volunteers how to identify potential evidence of construction violations, legally trace problems to the source, and file reports with the CSI hotline, where experts decide which cases should be investigated further. Often this will involve the Pipeline Air Force (fixed wing airplanes and drones) gathering visual evidence of problems with high-resolution cameras, and in some cases experts will visit the site personally. Friends of Nelson helped recruit volunteers.

WELL WATER TESTING – With grant funding, a volunteer with expertise in environmental health developed a plan for assessing well water quality in areas along the proposed path of the ACP in Nelson and Buckingham counties.  Measures include 87-90 different pollutants (the last 3 involve extra expense, so are optional).  All testing is carried out by certified experts, with the goal of providing solid data for regulatory enforcement or legal action.  Friends of Nelson will do our pre-construction testing as close as possible to the start of any construction activities.

LANDOWNER SUPPORT – We continued a major effort to help affected landowners in Nelson County deal with a wide range of concerns related to eminent domain.  We helped them understand the legal and procedural aspects of eminent domain; provided them with information to overcome Dominion’s unfair advantage during easement negotiations; helped them connect with good legal counsel; alerted them to possible irregularities and changes in ACP’s plans; provided them a direct and vital link to the Pipeline CSI team; and helped them build supportive relationships with other affected landowners.

SUPPORTING OUR ALLIES – As in the past, many of us attended allied citizen groups’ meetings, rallies and other events, and often they attended our gatherings.  In addition, when appropriate, we signed on to others’ anti-pipeline initiatives.

Five years after Dominion CEO Farrell and Governor McAuliffe announced plans for the ACP, not a single shovelful of soil has been dug in Nelson County or Virginia, Dominion’s original justification for their massive project has largely been discredited, and Dominion is struggling to overcome the loss or suspension of seven permits.  It seems reasonable to conclude that we’re doing something right.  Therefore, our intention in the new year is to continue what we’ve been doing—all of it, because it’s hard to tell exactly what’s working and what’s not producing the results we want. Our own internal review of where we stand and where we need to go has revealed a number of programs that could be strengthened or expanded.

PUBLIC INFO + EDUCATION – After 5 years, many of our large storyboards and maps, key elements in our tabling program, are showing their age, both in their physical condition and in their messages.  Prior to the start of the 2020 farmers’ market season, we will develop new, attractive, informative, up-to-date signs and maps.  Our conversations at the market and festivals reveal that many people from Nelson and nearby counties have limited understanding of the ACP in particular and, beyond that, the larger context of topics like climate change, renewable energy, energy conservation, and federal and state laws and regulations.  For 2020, we plan to develop a speakers bureau comprising FON Board members and volunteers who have expertise or a strong interest in one or more of these topics and are willing to present informative talks.

COLLABORATION WITH ALLIES – It takes a team to defeat massive projects like the ACP and the huge amounts of money its backers can pour into TV, lobbying and other promotional activities. Our local “team” includes over 50 other citizen groups under the ABRA umbrella.  In 2020, we will continue to build relationships with these local allies and also with other grassroots organizations throughout the country fighting against the massive and destructive buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure.  There are many similarities in our struggles, and we have much to learn from one another.

‘Everyday People’ vs. Corporate Goliath

Who.What.Why discusses the David vs Goliath battle of “everyday people” against Dominion in a November 25, 2019 article. “It seems like a David vs. Goliath battle. Since 2014, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and community groups, along with some local businesses, has fought in court to block a massive $8 billion pipeline. The anti-pipeline coalition, which is represented by an environmental law firm, is up against a politically connected corporation with 7.5 million customers in 18 states, 21,000 employees, and 2018 earnings of $2.4 billion.”

In addition to eliminating “more than 6,800 acres of forest — an area the size of eight Central Parks” and upending the lives of people living on or near its route, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “has implications for millions of ratepayers in both Virginia and North Carolina. It also raises concerns about a major utility’s investment in fossil fuels, at a time when carbon emissions are jeopardizing the way humans live in the future.”

The article discusses the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear Dominion’s appeal of the December 2018 Fourth Circuit ruling that “the US Forest Service does not have the authority to grant Dominion the right to build its pipeline across the Appalachian Trail ‘at its preferred crossing point,’ on federal lands,” and why a Dominion victory in the Supreme Court would not be the last word, how the pipeline could punish Dominion ratepayers, whether (or not) Dominion’s political clout will prevail, as well as the surge in grassroots political engagement to fight the ACP.

Lewis Freeman, executive director of the Allegheny–Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), a coalition of 51 community and environmental groups of which Friends of Nelson is one, says the ACP has energized average citizens.

“Pipeline construction will require ACP engineers to sheer the tops off some mountain ridges. When Freeman asked an engineer what they would do with all that rock and soil, the engineer responded that the materials would be ‘”carefully set aside” and then “put back the way it was.” Well, you don’t have to be an engineer to blink at that,’ Freeman said. ‘Are they gonna put it back with Gorilla glue?'”

Freeman continued, saying, “‘Notwithstanding the length of time this battle has gone, I marvel at the people and organizations that have, from the early stages, opposed this project. Most of our members are community groups, citizens groups, many of which were formed as a result of the pipeline proposal.’ These ‘involved activists had never been involved in a fight like this before,’ Freeman added. ‘So when Dominion talks about the “wild-eye environmentalists,” they’re mischaracterizing who their opposition is. They’re everyday people who just think this is a lousy project in the wrong place.'”

Who.What.Why notes that, “Dominion did not respond to two requests for comment on this story.”

Read the full article here.

Worth Noting!

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance sent out their 250th ABRA Update on October 24, 2019. Commenting on the occasion, ABRA’s Dan Shaffer says,

If you’d asked me in October of 2014 what I’d be doing today – well, let’s just say writing this email would not have come to mind!

But then, I guess the Atlantic Coast Pipeline wasn’t exactly in anybody’s 5-year plan…except of course, Dominion’s.

That said, I think it’s fair to say that nobody, on either side of the issue, expected we’d be here: the project stalled on multiple fronts by litigation, permits revoked, costs soaring and Dominion struggling to put a good face on the debacle while having only 20 miles of pipe in the ground.

THAT said…this thing is far from over…like it or not. Dominion still has a virtually-unlimited supply of our money at its disposal to plow ahead. It still wields unmatched influence over Virginia politics and thus our energy and economic future. It has friends in high places, as its inclusion on this administration’s early Priority Infrastructure list, latest Attorney General (William Barr – recent Dominion board member), and the U.S. Solicitor General’s request for a Supreme Court hearing over the Appalachian Trial crossing all attest.

Thus, we must ourselves keep pushing back against the fossil fuel tide which, while difficult to stand against, is simply no longer the irresistible force that it once was. Though the current is shifting in our direction, the battle, much less the War, is not yet won. We are on the right side of this – and of history. But we must keep fighting.

Thanks again for all of the hard work that all of you have done. All of the time that you have committed and sacrifices you’ve made.

It has not been in vain. If it had, there would be an operating pipeline in the ground today…not this email in your Inbox!