Monumental issues will remain unresolved until we acknowledge the harm we do through excessive consumption
NELLYSFORD, Va. – I received an email from Friends of Nelson, a group based in this town in Nelson County. The email alerted me to the organization’s decision to sue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
It is easy to understand. Nelson County’s slogan is “On the Sunrise Side of the Blue Ridge.” On its western border is the Blue Ridge Parkway, and on its northern point the Skyline Drive begins. Nelson County is home to the Appalachian Trail. And, it is home to a group of people fighting to stop the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which if approved, would cross this county of national treasures, forests, farms and villages. Joining forces as “Friends of Nelson,” the group of citizens is well-organized, vocal, effective, and educational. I am certain they move into this expensive, adversarial approach after thoughtful consideration.
So I applaud the action, though in such a case, as the saying goes, it is usually the lawyers that win. In any event, the group has apparently concluded that FERC, which is supposed to be a watchdog for the citizenry when corporations seek to cross state lines to build energy infrastructure, is too closely aligned with Dominion Resources and its partners, who are seeking to build the ACP.
Bully for them. Having attended several FERC meetings, it is hard to draw any other conclusion. Industry and FERC officials have been chummy at meetings, with company representatives even allowed to set up “informational” booths while environmental activists and landowners opposing the pipeline have often found themselves marginalized. Indeed, many residents in Virginia and West Virginia have held meetings in their communities after the FERC meetings to explain to their neighbors what the fuss is all about, as FERC officials just aren’t getting it done. The FERC meetings are only informational anyway, though comments of those speaking are recorded for posterity. Apparently, Friends of Nelson has determined that citizen comments, as well as the letter and spirit of the law, will be ignored by FERC. So, as Friends of Nelson states in its email, “It’s time to lawyer up.”
Any number of reasons makes it impossible to predict if Friends of Nelson will be successful in court. However, one thing is clear – even if it should win in court, Friends of Nelson and their allies still must win in the court of public opinion. That is getting harder by the moment, because of international geo-political events. The drums of war are dominating the national discussion. Pipeline construction, if discussed at all, will be in the context of making the United States energy independent. All other considerations will therefore become secondary.
So, it is a time of necessary decision. Pipeline opponents no longer have the luxury of limiting their opposition based on personal property rights and ecological preservation. Now, because of world events, pipeline opponents must confront and challenge the fundamental reason that there is demand for the pipelines – so that Americans can continue to live as we have for decades: excessively and disproportionately consuming the world’s resources.
Indeed, it can certainly be argued that this fundamental truth is the root cause of the hate we are experiencing from the people of the Middle East, in particular the youth. This is not to excuse terrorism, but we have waited far too long to have this discussion about our own resource stewardship. This is not a popular message, as it just rings too true. Americans, you see, are entitled. We believe we are entitled to the oil under the ground in the Middle East, and we also believe we are entitled to the natural gas in the ground under the farms in Doddridge County, West Virginia. If this means war, or if means taking and destroying people and land hundreds of miles across three states to build a pipeline to transport that gas from West Virginia, then so be it.
In short, the Friends of Nelson battling FERC and Dominion, the thousands of individuals and groups along the pipeline’s path working to defeat it, and those suffering health problems and death in the shale fields of Central Appalachia will not win any long-term meaningful battles without first challenging Americans to fundamentally alter their thinking about consumerism. Failing to do so, we will get more of the hawkish rhetoric coming from candidates in both parties.
While he is not going to get my vote should that opportunity arise, New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie accurately summed up the priorities of the American people. Quoted in The Wall Street Journal (“Chris Christie’s Second Wind”) regarding President Obama’s comments about the importance of attending the climate change conference in Paris as a message to terrorists about the West’s resolve, Christie said, “He really believes that folks are worried about climate change when what they really care about now is the Islamic State and Syria and terrorism.”
Setting aside the political nuances and arguable twisting of words, the fact remains that the American people are fearful about terrorism and it has taken center stage. Climate change, regardless of its impacts, does not feel like the existential threat that ISIS does. As for a proposed 550-mile gas pipeline? The vast majority of Americans know absolutely nothing about it and they do not care. But they will if given this choice: more war in the Middle East or “energy independence” because of “cheap” and “abundant” natural gas.
That is the strategy energy industries will use, even though our presence and activities in the Middle East since World War II have been primarily to prop up regimes friendly to American energy interests. That capitalists will use their cronies in the White House and Congress to send off young people to war to maximize profit is not news. We just choose to ignore it.
We can’t do that anymore. Nor can we refuse to acknowledge our own complicity. So long as the financial reports about Black Friday remain more important to us than the number of people dying and fleeing for their lives in the Middle East, we have a long way to go.
If we want to stop the pipelines, then we must first stop the madness that we simply call, “Business as Usual.”
© Michael M. Barrick / The Appalachian Chronicle, 2015
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