Issues from local to global must be considered
By Autumn Long
Editor’s note: These are remarks made by the author at Bridgeport High School on March 24 at the last of several public scoping meetings that were held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider the environmental impact of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Supply Header Pipeline.
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – I recently received a letter that contains vaguely worded threats of legal action against me for refusing pipeline surveyors access to my property. No eminent domain ruling has yet been made on the subject of the proposed pipelines, yet the involved companies are proceeding as if it were a foregone conclusion. Given recent public comments made by the chief officer of FERC, this is not such an unreasonable assumption. So I hope FERC will sincerely and closely consider all the comments submitted by citizens and organizations whose interests do not align with those of the gas industry, if for no other reason than to defend their agency’s supposed independence and neutrality against growing public perception that the fox is, in fact, guarding the hen house.
The impacts of the entire suite of simultaneously proposed interstate gas pipelines must be considered as cumulative and lasting. These pipelines would lay the groundwork for an exponential increase in fracking, which has already run roughshod over this region of Appalachia. Extracting and burning the natural gas distributed through these pipelines would lead to future greenhouse gas emissions that will exacerbate the unfolding global disaster of climate change. FERC needs to consider these impacts on scales ranging from the global to the local.
In the case of the ACP, this pipeline would transect some of the most pristine and wildest public forest lands in the eastern United States. These forests are irreplaceable parts of our nation’s natural heritage that protect sensitive ecosystems, endangered and threatened wildlife species, unique geologic formations, and the sources of fresh drinking water for many, many millions of people. Environmental impacts include forest fragmentation and habitat loss as well as the loss of future carbon capture due to permanent deforestation along pipeline rights-of-way; erosion and loss of topsoil from one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet; sedimentation and pollution of waterways; and increased opportunities for the spread of invasive species along pipeline corridors.
Should these pipeline projects move forward, their installation along existing right-of-way corridors would help minimize this environmental destruction and mitigate negative human impacts such as increased potential for flooding, air pollution, noise pollution, and public health consequences. Creating new pipeline corridors would involve the forcible taking of private property, depriving landowners of its use and enjoyment and decreasing their properties’ values.
Regardless of route choice, questions of public safety remain, including the possibility of explosions with enormous projected blast radii and hazardous chemical leaks. Vigilant monitoring, maintenance, and upkeep will be required for the indefinite future in order to minimize these risks and dangers, the possibility of which can never be entirely prevented even with best efforts. I, for one, have little faith that these gas companies, including the many iterations of subcontractors hired to perform this work, will in fact maintain the necessary levels of maintenance and repairs to prevent inevitable decay and decrepitude of these pipelines over time. This state is already criss-crossed with aging, neglected pipelines in various stages of disrepair. How, then, can we trust these same companies to maintain hundreds of additional miles of pipelines of unprecedented scale and size with any more care than they have demonstrated toward their existing responsibilities?
Given the enormity of these risks and destructive impacts, a compelling case indeed must be made in favor of the public interest and benefits that would derive from these pipelines. Yet such an argument proves elusive, particularly given the fact that current gas production is far outstripping domestic consumption in this country. These pipelines in fact offer a textbook example of so-called “negative externalities,” when public costs shore up private profits. In this case, great environmental and social burdens would be unfairly borne by the population of a region that is poor, underserved, and underdeveloped in order to open new markets for private capital and encourage middle-class consumption habits in locations far removed from the scene of the crime.
The inherent goal of these pipelines is to reproduce the economic status quo: to encourage a continuation of socioeconomic conditions in which Americans remain reliant on artificially cheap fossil fuels. This outcome is intrinsically at odds with overarching public interests or the public good. In order to withstand future climate disruption, we must shift swiftly and unhesitatingly toward an energy system of renewable and sustainable proportions. This entails incentivizing a wholesale reduction of fossil fuel use, including that of natural gas, rather than encouraging its expanded consumption. Public policy can and should be working to shape energy regulations that will protect the long-term survival of human civilization on this planet rather than the short-term profits of private corporations.
Autumn Long is a landowner in Harrison County, W.Va.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.
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