Protesters wave signs opposing pipeline construction at a rally earlier this year in support of a Green New Deal for Virginia. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

By Wanda Roberts, Barb Adams, Elizabeth Kreydatus and Denise Robbins

The cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was welcome news. Many of Virginia’s citizens, nonprofit groups, and legal defenders that fought for years to keep that pipeline from being built, and we are grateful for their tireless work. It was a rare victory for the people rather than big gas companies, and we’re hopeful it’s a sign of good things to come. But those good things won’t come without a fight, as we learned during the six-year struggle to end the ACP.

Over the last six years, as Dominion Energy and its partners fought to take citizens’ land and dig up treasured national parks to make way for their unneeded pipeline, they wreaked havoc on already-struggling communities. These residents and communities who had few legal resources to protect their rights found help from nonprofits to defend them, and the battle left wounds that won’t soon disappear. 

They might not be willing to admit it, but canceling the ACP was a win for the utilities, too. The pipeline had been an economic mistake from the moment it was announced. Customer energy demand wasn’t at a level that justified a project of that magnitude. Projections showed it would be a stranded asset, bleeding money from customers in a matter of years – not operating long enough to have any hope of paying the pipeline’s rapidly escalating tab. Cost overruns and court decisions that favored people over the pipeline piled on, too, resulting in the project’s demise.

It was the best possible outcome. 

With the disadvantages of fossil fuels highlighted perhaps more than ever before because of the high profile nature of the ACP, hopefully we are poised to seize this momentum and further advance Virginia’s clean energy future. There are still several dangerous projects proposed or underway: the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the Header Improvement Project, the Chickahominy Power Station, the “Charles City Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine” known as C4GT, the Northern Virginia Transco Pipeline Expansion, the Gidley Compressor station — and many more. 

The MVP is possibly even more harmful than the ACP. It is a fracked-gas pipeline of similar size and even greater fossil fuel emissions, and its developers have already racked up hundreds of water-quality violations. Yet construction could resume as early as this summer. Gov. Ralph Northam should disallow any potential work on this pipeline immediately. 

We have some good news on the Header Injustice Project. (Virginia Natural Gas calls it the “Header Improvement Project” but that name is horribly misleading.) This is a proposal for new pipeline and compressor station infrastructure. Major components of that project will go through majority-minority communities, many of which have limited internet access and were unable to participate in virtual hearings and have their voices heard about the project.

These communities, with little knowledge about or say in the project, will be the worst impacted by its harms. This is the textbook definition of environmental racism. A June ruling from the State Corporation Commission put the project on hold due to concerns over environmental justice and consumer protection issues. Unless the project developer makes major changes to its proposal, the SCC has imposed a hefty roadblock. This ruling should end VNG’s hopes of ever seeing its plan come to fruition, but we’ll have to watch closely to ensure the company does not try to proceed. 

Finally, the Chickahominy Power Station and C4GT are proposed to be built within one mile of each other in a predominantly minority community in Charles City County. The Chickahominy Power Station would be the largest gas plant in the state of Virginia and would draw water from the region’s middling Potomac Aquifer, one of the region’s only sources of drinking water, which is already at a dangerously low level. These plants were permitted without adequate notification or engagement of local residents, and community members have since formed a grassroots group, Concerned Citizens of Charles City County (C5), to protect their air and water. Gas companies typically prey on communities that are least equipped to fight back. And once again we have to make sure these projects do not get built. We have to keep the gas companies from damaging personal property, polluting the air and water, and burdening a community already facing many challenges. 

Gov. Northam issued a press release on June 11 in which he claimed, “Acknowledging and addressing the systemic, institutional racism that is deeply-rooted in this country and this commonwealth continues to be a top priority for our administration.” Much of Virginians’ attention has rightly been focused on police violence, and those conversations deserve to be centered. But if the governor is going to prioritize “addressing the systemic, institutional racism” in the commonwealth, he must also acknowledge and remedy the environmental racism that has been enacted on his watch against the citizens of Charles City County. 

We cannot let our recent victory over gas pollution overshadow the work still ahead. We must keep our eye on the prize. With each battle won, we expand our opportunities to use clean solar and wind — energy sources that don’t emit pollution.  Wind and solar plants come with all the benefits of big energy production, without the harmful impacts and risks. Renewable energy projects bring good jobs and meaningful economic investment. The more gas plants and pipelines we defeat, the more we protect the rights of all Virginians and advance our state toward the clean energy economy we desire.

Wanda Roberts, Barb Adams, Elizabeth Kreydatus and Denise Robbins are part of the Stop the Abuse of Virginian Energy (SAVE) Coalition. The SAVE Coalition seeks to end the use of all fossil fuels and achieve a just transition to clean, safe, renewable options.