A sign at a camp of anti-pipeline activists opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Montgomery County. (Mason Adams/ For the Virginia Mercury)

By Mara Robbins

In April of 2018, after re-supply to Red and Minor Terry’s tree sits had been prevented by law enforcement for over a week, it was decided that they would be fed bologna sandwiches twice a day. The officers assigned to hold them captive with 24-hour surveillance retrieved these “meals” from the Roanoke City Jail. These courageous women decided to live in trees to block the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 42-inch, high pressure, fracked gas transmission line, from destroying their cherished Bent Mountain community.

The House of Delegates passed HJ136 in early February, declaring to the Commonwealth of Virginia that the climate emergency “demands an immediate social, technological and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of Virginia at a massive scale to halt, mitigate, reverse and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”

They then proceeded to kill the Virginia Green New Deal and replace it with the damaging Clean Economy Act. This will perpetuate the continued assault of fossil fuel petro-colonizers on our water, land and people. The Green New Deal passed the Labor and Commerce Committee in the house, only to be left in the Appropriations committee. In other words, they did not even bother to calculate the costs.

Despite the abundant supply of nourishing local food available at their support camps, the powers that be decided that Red and Minor’s family and allies could not be trusted to meet their nutritional needs. Sometimes, when the sandwiches were being delivered by bucket, we sang the old advertising jingle with our own adjusted lyrics “… because Roanoke County has a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.”

Stand With Red lasted for 34 days and culminated in the two Terry women being arrested for trespassing on their own property. The MVP cut trees well past their own self-designated March 31 deadline.

Theresa “Red”Terry and her daughter Theresa Minor Terry sat in trees to block the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s path through their family’s property near Roanoke. (Mara Robbins)

The MVP used this date (designed to protect the endangered Indiana Bat and adhering to migratory bird regulations) to achieve early-entry from the courts. This kind of circumnavigation of the system by the fossil fuel industry is all too common. It’s been legitimized by the state for far too long. Right now it’s being challenged consistently — and persistently — by people who are fed up with business as usual. We show up again and again with a diversity of tactics to clearly point out the corruption within politics as they apply to the climate emergency.

As we calculate the costs of shifting away from carbon, we have to also consider methane. We’ll need to assign the value of a pristine mountain stream contaminated by fossil fuel infrastructure. Someone should try to design an equation that predicts the value of our children’s breath as they inhale toxic air.

We must face what we are facing: extreme weather, climate refugees, cancer clusters and injustices difficult if not impossible to quantify. The VACEA fails to do this with any guarantee of effectiveness beyond industry protecting its ability to continue to profit from fossil fuel for as long as possible. Frontline communities in the path of projects such as the MVP face climate emergencies every day that inevitably affect the most vulnerable.

After Red and Minor were forced down from their trees with the threat of having to pay $1,000 a day fine to the MVP, they kept their bologna sandwiches. They refused to give a dime to the MVP. They were not able to keep their trees, which to this day lie in a pile of brush and wetland near the pristine waterway of Bottom Creek. And they live every day with the threat of continued abuse by the MVP hanging over their heads.

The Declaration of Climate Emergency as it currently stands suggests that: “justice requires that frontline and marginalized communities, which have historically borne the brunt of the effects of climate change, participate actively in the planning and implementation of this mobilization effort.” Valiant efforts were made during the crafting of the Green New Deal to collaborate with the grassroots so that solutions could alleviate the suffering still endured by those in the path of projects that threaten them.

Minor and Red kept the MVP from cutting down their trees for 34 days. The MVP has been blocked from crossing the Yellow Finch Blockade in Elliston for nearly a year and a half. The project faces extensive violations, invalid permits and a stop work order from the FERC which is (kind of?) holding off work for the time being. This will likely be lifted as spring approaches, putting these fragile ecological and social communities once more at incalculable risk for irreparable harm. The state has failed to take action again and again.

Our House of Delegates just said that: “In May 2019, the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that human-induced climate change is pushing the planet toward the sixth mass species extinction, threatening the food security, water supply, and well-being of billions of people.”

The declaration also says: “the consequences of climate change already disproportionately affect frontline communities, indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities and endanger populations made especially vulnerable by existing exposure to extreme weather events, such as children, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing disabilities or health conditions.”

Environmental injustices are not theoretical in Virginia. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the subject of a Supreme Court hearing today, might never be built. The environmental racism exemplified by the threat to the communities in Buckingham, including Union Hill, is utterly reprehensible. It’s reflected by the atrocities of injustice heaped on the shoulders of Southwest Virginia, our new “sacrifice zone” when it comes to fossil fuel infrastructure being pushed through despite all evidence showing that it should not be. Yet, consistently, the most attention is paid to the pipeline that is NOT currently under construction. The truth of our resistance is not accurately represented. Few understand what it means to live in a “frontline community.”

Minor Terry effectively demonstrated her resistance to Gov. Ralph Northam after she was back on the ground. For months, she mailed him a bologna sandwich every day. To begin with, it was one she had saved from her time in the trees. Then she made her own. It is doubtful that he will ever stand up to fossil fuel special interests with the courage and conviction that Minor and her mother Red continue to demonstrate.

The Green New Deal was crafted with ample participation from the grassroots. It contains viable, enforceable action that can address the climate emergency we are facing. Taking it away from the people and replacing it with the Clean Economy Act is like offering people who have been starving for over five years a rancid bologna sandwich on stale bread when there’s a full course meal of locally sourced food just beyond the police tape.

Minor and Red understand that “in the absence of significant accountability, acknowledgment, action and leadership at a federal level regarding the climate crisis, it is the obligation of Virginia to mobilize at emergency speed to restore a safe climate and environment for the health, lives, environments, and economies of rural, urban, and suburban communities across Virginia.” They refuse to be fed bologna. They demand the Green New Deal.

Mara Robbins is an an environmental ARTivist in Richmond.