Demand for Power, episode 3 of Broken Ground, is now live, and tells John and Ruby Laurys’ story of stepping up in Buckingham County to defend their farm and neighbors when pipeline developers won’t back down from pursuing a risky, polluting project that’s become obsolete.
On May, 17, 2019 Virginians and allies from the region walked with Union Hill to demand environmental justice and a stop to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley fracked gas pipelines. They were joined by William Joseph Barber III and Karenna Gore of the Center for Earth Ethics. Returning to the route across the Robert E. Lee Bridge into Richmond traveled by civil rights advocates 51 years ago during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic Poor People’s Campaign march to Washington D.C., hundreds called for an end to environmental racism and new fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens our ability to protect our homes, our water, and our children’s future.
Jessica Sims of Sierra Club Virginia Chapter led the collaboration of dozens of Virginia environmental and grassroots organizations, including the Virginia Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Musical support was provided by the SUN SiNG Collective of ARTivism Virginia.
Featured here is singer, Bj Brown and speakers Queen Shabazz, Genesis Chapman, Karenna Gore, William Barber II, and Marie Gillespie. Other speakers for this event included: Beth Roach, Pastor Paul Wilson, Evelyn Dent, Lakshmi Fjord, Richard Walker, Andrew Tyler, Swami Dayananda, John Laury, Andrea Miller, Travis Williams and Chad Oba. Other ARTivists included All the Saints Theater, Lilly Bechtel, Tom Burkett, Tom Elliott, Kay Ferguson, Gabe Gavin, Jameson Price, Mara Eve Robbins, Graham Smith-White, Laney Sullivan, Siva Stephen Fiske and Joshua Vana.
Show up – bear witness! Come to the Buckingham Planning COmmission meeting on Monday April 22, 2019 (Buckingham County Administrative Building, 13380 West James Anderson Hwy (Rt. 60), Buckingham). Ask the Supervisors to amend the Special Use Permit (SUP) for the compressor station’s emergency communication tower to require that the infrastructure be served by broadband and that a last mile provider of broadband be found for businesses and residents along the pipeline. This will enhance safety and economic self-sufficiency in Buckingham, and especially help those who are forced to accept the pipeline.
Broadband continues to be the best available technology and at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Energy and Infrastructure Conference in Roanoke on April 17-18 there was agreement that Virginia needs for every corner of the commonwealth to have good broadband service. Since this SUP is being reconsidered, and since on March 19, 2019 Governor Northam signed legislation (HB 2691; Code of Virginia section 56-585.1:8) that will allow Dominion to help make broadband available in underserved areas, the county should revisit this issue as part of reapproving the SUP.
Because the original SUP was issued for only 18 months, there is an opportunity to respond to new conditions – the change in state law concerning utility sale of broadband – since the pipeline has not yet been built. Citizens are asking that the Supervisors again approve the SUP for the usual 18 month term. Many things related to technology, cybersecurity and other issues are changing quickly, so the door should not be closed to asking ACP to include new technology or address new issues by making the SUP last more than 18 months.
Around a thousand people gathered at Buckingham Middle School on February 19, 2019, for A Moral Call for Ecological Justice, which included as keynote speakers former Vice President Al Gore, and Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Breaking Through News reporter Elaine Rackley was at the rally and has prepared a series of stories about the environmental justice event.
Rackley’s first story:
Part two in Breaking Through News Reporter Elaine Rackley’s series on the recent Moral Call to Ecological Justice rally in Buckingham County:
Civil rights activist William Barber II, of the Poor People’s Campaign, and environmental activist Al Gore, along with his daughter Karenna, visited Buckingham on February 19, 2019, for meetings with Union Hill residents and anti-pipeline activists (closed to the press), followed by an evening meeting at Buckingham Middle School, where 700-1000 people heard speakers call for justice and tell their stories.
Over and over, both speakers and the wide press coverage surrounding the day’s events, pointed out Governor Ralph Northam’s failure to protect citizens from Dominion’s corporate interests, his interventions on behalf of Dominion, and his blatant failure to fulfill his recent promises for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project and supporting Union Hill.
Northam’s response (tone deaf as usual) sided again (as usual) with Dominion, ignoring all evidence of environmental devastation and environmental injustice: in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Northam said “it is clear community concerns remain and that Dominion/ACP’s outreach has thus far been lacking. I hope that Dominion/ACP will listen and respond to the concerns of this important historic community and act as a good neighbor.”
The event was livestreamed here on the Repairers of the Breach Facebook page:
Press coverage before and after the event included the following:
2-20-19 Washington Post. Al Gore, civil rights leader William Barber call on Northam to seek forgiveness through action. “The little front porch seemed like a pulpit as the Rev. William Barber II outlined a path to redemption for Virginia’s troubled governor, Ralph Northam. ‘What he should do more than resign is he should get the resolve to be serious and take on this project,’ Barber said, looking toward the nearby stand of pine trees where Dominion Energy plans to build a major natural gas pipeline pumping station in the middle of a historic African American community. ‘He could lead the nation. He could lead the South.’ Beside the civil rights leader stood another high-profile activist, former vice president Al Gore, who nodded in agreement. The pair was touring the rural community of Union Hill on Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to the case against the pumping station, which is part of the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Northam’s shame over a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page could be put to positive use, said Gore, a fellow Democrat. ‘If it resulted in Governor Northam saying, ‘I’ve seen the light, I’m going to change the policy,’ then God intends it for good,’ he said. This is Northam’s place now in the national dialogue. As long as he responds to calls to resign with promises to seek racial reconciliation, pressure will mount for him to act and prove he means it.”
2-20-19 WVTF. Gore Lambasts Dominion’s Plans for Union Hill. “It was a combination protest, spiritual revival and celebration as about 800 people packed the gym at a middle school in Buckingham County last night to hear from environmental activist Al Gore and political activist William Barber. They had come to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and construction of a massive compressor station in the historic black community called Union Hill. If Al Gore was the evening’s big star, the Reverend William Barber was quite a warm up act. He attacked Dominion – the company planning a massive compressor station in a poor, rural community founded by freed Virginia slaves, and said companies often refer to places like Union Hill as LULUs – short for Local Unwanted Land Use.”
2-20-19 Virginia Mercury. Civil rights leader, former vice president take aim at Northam, Dominion during visit to Buckingham County. “‘It is an outrageous proposal environmentally in terms of environmental injustice; in terms of it being an economic rip-off to the energy ratepayers of Virginia and in terms of global warming, of course,’ Gore said in an interview before the event. Barber took more direct shots at Dominion, asking at one point during a meeting at Union Grove Baptist Church if there were any Dominion employees present. ‘In Hebrew, dominion does not mean destruction,’ Barber said later in the evening. ‘In Hebrew, dominion means responsibility. Dominion is God’s instruction for community and taking care of the land and all that is in it.’ …. ‘I did take note of (Northam’s) statement that he was going to dedicate the rest of his term to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘This community is a wonderful opportunity for him to give meaning to those words and actually show that he’s intent on doing it even if it makes one his largest financial supporters unhappy. That’s where the rubber meets the road.’ Barber had a similar message for Northam, who was not at the event. ‘The real racism you must prove you’re against is systemic racism,’ Barber said. ‘Gov. Northam, if you want to be a great governor, if you want to help lead the nation, the first thing you got to do is stop by Union Hill.’”
2-19-19 US News. Al Gore Meets With Residents Fighting Gas Pipeline Station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber — part of an environmental justice tour — came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”; Gore said. During a raucous meeting before more than 700 people at Buckingham Middle School, Barber said Dominion Energy — the lead developer of the pipeline — is “practicing sin” by proposing to build the compressor station in Union Hill. ‘I want to say tonight that any governor or legislator, Democrat or Republican … that has chosen Dominion over this community is scandalous,’ Barber said.”
2-19-19 Washington Post. Al Gore meets with residents fighting gas pipeline station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber — part of an environmental justice tour — came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”‘ Gore said.”
2-19-18 WTVR6. Al Gore warns that Dominion compressor station will bring ‘single largest increase in global warming pollution’ “Former Vice President Al Gore stopped in Central Virginia Tuesday night as part of what he calls an ‘Environmental Justice Tour.’ Gore visited Union Hill in Buckingham County to highlight what he calls the connection between poverty, racism and ecological devastation. Union Hill is a historically black community, and is the proposed site of a controversial compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Gore says the compressor will be harmful to the environment. ‘This compressor station and this pipeline would be the single largest increase in global warming pollution from the state of Virginia ever,’ Gore said.”
2-19-19 NBC29. Al Gore Among Guest Speakers Opposing Pipeline Construction in Buckingham County. “Rev. Barber II says Governor Ralph Northam should change his views on the pipeline and stop accepting money from Dominion Energy. ‘He could stop this tomorrow, but it would require him to say, “I choose the people of Virginia over a corporation,”‘ Barber said. Gore also stated that if Northam wanted to make up for all of the controversy surrounding the blackface scandal, Buckingham County would be a good place to start. ‘In the aftermath of those pictures – of that picture being shown – the governor said he wants to dedicate his remaining time as governor to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘Well, here is the premiere place to do that.’”
2-19-19 Daily Progress. Union Hill visit by Gore, Barber seeks to put Northam on spot. “Gov. Ralph Northam can’t escape the spotlight as former Vice President Al Gore and the Rev. William J. Barber II bring a racial and environmental crusade Tuesday to a little community in Buckingham County with a big natural gas pipeline planned at its doorstep. Barber, a national civil rights leader from North Carolina, said Monday that Northam’s challenge is about more than overcoming a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page or his admission that he once blackened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest. It’s about changing public policy in Virginia, he said, beginning with state permits granted for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. ‘The governor has turned his back on this community,’ Barber, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in an interview. ‘If he wants to do a reconciliation tour, he should first go to Union Hill.’ The message is the same from Gore, a Nobel laureate who has made the fight against fossil fuels and climate change the focus of his political work since narrowly losing the presidential election in 2000. ‘It’s such a great opportunity for the governor to really show he means what he says and is re-examining the racial impacts of Virginia’s policies,’ the former vice president said in an interview Monday.”
2-19-19 Bloomberg. Ralph Northam’s Racial Reckoning Could Spell Trouble for Pipe Project. “Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racial reckoning could spell more trouble for Dominion Energy Inc.’s $7 billion-plus Atlantic Coast gas pipeline, with one of its facilities sited in an historically African American community. While the 600-mile (966-kilometer) project is facing several setbacks, one element, a planned compressor station, is drawing particularly heated backlash for its proposed location in Union Hill, a community west of Richmond that was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Environmental groups and social activists are hoping to capitalize on the attention generated by the state’s political turmoil to further their efforts to block the project. And now former U.S. Vice President and outspoken fossil fuel critic Al Gore is slated to attend an event on Tuesday meant to draw attention to environmental justice issues surrounding the project. …. No one could be reached at Northam’s office for comment. Dominion didn’t respond to a request for comment.”
Press Conference: Moral Call For Ecological Justice Buckingham
It is unfortunate you were unable to attend the February 19 meeting in Buckingham County, with keynote speakers Rev. William Barber and Al Gore addressing “The Moral Call for Ecological Justice”. The presentations were comprehensive in outlining the many injustices that would be visited on the Union Hill community if Dominion is allowed to build a huge compressor station there. You could have learned a lot had you been there, and we encourage you to take the time to review the video now available online.
At this point in your governorship, you have conveyed the message that you have no real concern about environmental justice or Union Hill. You first dismissed the report of your Advisory Council on Environmental Justice as a draft, and when council leaders made it clear that the report was, in fact, their final report, you simply ignored it. Late in the review process, after a secret meeting with Dominion’s CEO, you abruptly removed two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board who had raised concerns about the potential compressor station’s impacts on area residents. You have allowed the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality to carry out his duties in a way that indicates he supports building the pipeline rather than doing his job in a neutral way. You have shown no concern that the Air Pollution Control Board’s last hearing on the compressor station was a meaningless show leading to a pre-arranged permit approval. In all, your actions regarding the compressor station at Union Hill are a dereliction of your duty to citizens of the Commonwealth.
If you are to fulfill your promise of leading Virginia forward you will need to do much more than apologize for past mistakes or make vague promises to ‘heal’ Virginia. You will need to take concrete action toward dismantling institutional racism. Your position gives you both the authority and the responsibility to lead on this.
The path you have laid out for yourself will be long and difficult. For the sake of all the citizens of Virginia and the country, we hope you persevere and succeed. We will be watching closely.